A few weeks ago some friends with a disability registered a muted protest on social media during the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) expressing their outrage at the festival's inclusion of Peter Singer. I joined them in expressing my disapproval, but living in Brisbane, I couldn't do much. Then last week I discovered he was invited to the Brisbane Writer's Festival (BWF) too. Then, I got really angry.
For those of you who don't know where this outrage stems from, Singer is a man who believes all foetuses that show physical abnormalities (re: disabilities) should be aborted in ALL circumstances. Not only do I find his views offensive, but I'm deeply disappointed that an institution that I love is endorsing these views. In putting forward this view Singer advocates that the lives of people with disabilities should be terminated, and are not worthy of life. This is selective genocide. Singer's views are not a matter of promoting diversity of opinion, this is marginalising and actively shunning people with disabilities.
As the late Stella Young wrote in 2012.
In his book Practical Ethics, Singer argues the case for selective infanticide. He deems it unfair that "At present parents can choose to keep or destroy their disabled offspring only if the disability happens to be detected during pregnancy. There is no logical basis for restricting parents' choice to these particular disabilities. If disabled newborn infants were not regarded as having a right to life until, say, a week or a month after birth it would allow parents, in consultation with their doctors, to choose on the basis of far greater knowledge of the infant's condition than is possible before birth." His perspective also takes account of a disabled child's place within their family.
"The birth of a child is usually a happy event for the parents. They have, nowadays, often planned for the child. The mother has carried it for nine months. From birth, a natural affection begins to bind the parents to it. So one important reason why it is normally a terrible thing to kill an infant is the effect the killing will have on its parents.
"It is different when the infant is born with a serious disability. Birth abnormalities vary, of course. Some are trivial and have little effect on the child or its parents; but others turn the normally joyful event of birth into a threat to the happiness of the parents, and any other children they may have. "Parents may, with good reason, regret that a disabled child was ever born."
If you some point in your life you need reading glasses, should doctors abort you in the womb because you will not have perfect vision?
When I found out that Singer was going to present at BWF, I decided to put my money where my mouth was. On Friday, I wrote an email to the BWF director Julie Beveridge echoing the above arguments. This morning, I got a lengthy, thoughtful response, the beginning of which read:
Thank you for your email, and for bringing to my attention this particular view point of Peter Singer, it’s not one I was familiar with.
I empathise deeply with your position...
Peter Singer has been engaged at the festival to discuss this latest book The Most Good You Can Do, a call to action for individuals to live a life of effective altruism that involves doing the most good possible. Altruism is a topic that is extremely popular amongst Brisbane audiences and Peter’s Good Thinking lecture is a continuation of a discussion BWF has been having over a couple of years on the topic. Previous conversations in this area include Inspire Happiness, with Matteiu Ricard who discussed holistic giving. Festivals like BWF are made up of hundreds of writers with different viewpoints on a variety of topics. It’s my job to program thought provoking content for audiences, and the topics discussed in Peter’s book The Most Good You Can Do are reflective of broader conversations about living more meaningful and connected lives. By programming a particular individual BWF is not endorsing any or all views held by those individuals, but providing a platform for conversation, debate, inspiration and entertainment.
The rest of her email recognised the lack of content regarding disability in the festival program, and to her great credit Beveridge invited me to establish a session specifically regarding disability and writing. I am going to take her up on the offer. I wasn't expecting it, or for her to take Singer off the festival program at this late stage, so the response to my initial correspondence far exceeded my expectations. Beveridge went as far as she could go, but it still doesn't address the larger problem.
As a friend of mine, ASN, posted on her Facebook yesterday:
If any other minority in Australia was targeted in the work of this man he would be shunned! Could you imagine if he suggested selecting against children with 'gay genes'? He would be accused of genocide of the gay community! Or what about race? He would be Hitler reincarnated. Not one of these groups or their allies would stand for it. It would be called unacceptable and rightly so.
To believe that an entire group of people have no right to life is sickening. Human variation is normal. If he targeted these people so many people in the community would be outraged, they would have boycotted these events. They would have publicly complained and the man would have been asked not to come. Just like when the American's were invited to preach hate speech about women at Hillsong here. What he preaches is no different. It is hate speech about disability and it is just as wrong as if he was sprouting that we should select against gays or race...
How is this possible? It is a really shit time to be disabled in Australia right now for many reasons, but to have this man allowed to publicly discuss his eugenic ideas has taken it to a whole new level. Before you tell me he has a right to his opinion please tell me how you would feel if this was your gay child they were discussing, or if someone was advocating for the eradication of your different genes? You remember how the holocaust happened? It happened when the good people allowed bad things to happen to those who were different to them. We already have doctors who advocate the termination of disabled children, or the pulling of life support for people with disabilities...
Forums such as BWF and MWF are designed to be places that act focal points for cultural debates in this country. In allowing Singer to participate they are condoning his opinions on selective genocide. These festivals represent a reflection of the political and cultural classes in this country, and their participants regard themselves to be 'intellectuals'. If these 'intellectuals' willingly support Singer and his murderous views, what hope have we fourth class citizens got? It is indeed a shit, shit time to be a person with a disability in Australia.