A bioethical upstart just in time for election


“There were already protests at Princeton when I arrived,” reminisced Peter Singer, known for triggering the modern animal-rights movement and supporting human euthanasia and abortion, about his 1999 appointment to Princeton’s Center for Human Values. Selected to give the Law School’s 2004 Dewey lecture, the bioethics professor drew a mélange of students, professors, and academics there Thursday afternoon to speak on “America’s Responsibilities as a Global Citizen.”

“Right now American ethical pursuits are concentrated within national self-interest,” said Singer, whose recent books include One World: The Ethics of Globalization (Yale University Press, 2nd ed. 2004). “Instead, America’s responsibility as a global citizen should be to help international law gain substantial ground.” America’s role under the Bush administration, he argued, has hindered global solidarity and welfare rather than improve it. Bush’s reluctance to sign the Kyoto Protocol hinged on his belief that overstated environmental dangers would disturb the American economy and way of life. “Bush argues that the U.S. cannot carry the burden of cleaning up the world, especially when China and India are not asked to sign the Kyoto Protocol,” Singer said. “But the polluter must pay.” Industrialized nations should be the first to assume responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, he contended. “America cannot claim to be a good global citizen by conferring the costs of the global environmental welfare to other nations who are less equipped to deal with them.”

Further, Singer said, America’s violation of the Geneva Conventions, its exemption from the International Criminal Court, and its efforts to challenge the ICC’s legitimacy threaten to undermine the rule of law. Urging America to sincerely support the United Nations, he said, “If we allow preemptive strikes to become international law, we allow war to occur more easily. We must work with the UN to advance global cooperation.”

Bianca Sepulveda, AB’04

October 29, 2004