Although bioethics is unquestionably predominantly a “utilitarian” ethical theory, there are in fact many different kinds of “utilitarianism”. Probably the most common in bioethics today is “preference” utilitarianism, a deconstruction of the classical utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill. While it would be a mistake to paint all “preference” utilitarians the same, as each proponent differs somewhat in their “theory”, a small sampling of some of the most articulate in the field could serve to indicate, in general, some of the main dogmas they hold in common — which dogmas the Catholic ObGyn meets daily face to face.
In “preference” utilitarianism an action is ethically correct if it satisfies the “preferences” (or, another variety, “best interests”) of those affected and has the best consequences for the greatest number of “people”. Modern utilitarianism, Bernard Williams explains, is supposed to be a system neutral [!] between the preferences that “people” actually have — a “preference” being a reflection of the state of mind of the agent, and not to be judged by some standard of reasonableness other than whether it accords with the best moral theory. Therefore, all preferences go into the melting pot, with no preference to count for more than any other; there must be “equal consideration of interests”, as Singer puts it.59 But of course ultimately, these individual “interests” will be weighed unequally against the total “good” or consequences for society as a whole — a point about any utilitarian theory that is often overlooked or underestimated.
Of interest is the definition of “people” or “person” used in preference utilitarianism. “Persons” are those who have preferences, interests, desires, etc. For these utilitarians, not all human beings are “persons”, while some animals are “persons”. Preference utilitarians especially need to attack those who hold the “sanctity of life ethic” (which states that only human beings are “persons”), as simply prejudiced and racists tenets of “speciecism”. As Oderberg explains the origins of this attack: “The charge was made famous by Peter Singer and is leveled by virtually all the followers of Singerian bioethics”.60 They prefer instead a “quality of life” ethic. One way that “preference utilitarianism" attacks the "sanctity of life ethic” is by literally deconstructing or redefining it — usually by means of “soft”, meandering, but very clever “thought experiments” and “logical dialogues” that “evaluate” the “pros” and “cons” of the “sanctity of life ethic” — to support a “quality of life” position.
One of the major theoreticians of “preference utilitarianism” for many decades has been Oxford philosopher⁄bioethicist⁄eugenicist Jonathan Glover. In his 1977 book,61 Glover literally redefines the “sanctity of life ethic” by means of redefining its major premise. Once that major premise is corrupted, of course, then all conclusions which flow from it will be corrupted as well.
The “sanctity of life ethic” is generally correctly stated as: “It is always a morally evil act to intentionally and directly kill an innocent human being.” From that major premise it follows, e.g., that since human embryos and fetuses are innocent human beings, and since human disabled and terminally ill adults are also innocent human beings, to intentionally and directly kill them would be morally evil actions per se — regardless of any “personhood” status, circumstances or intentions.
But Glover doesn't hold those actions to be “morally evil per se”; besides, that would impede the advancement of global “positive eugenics” and genetic engineering which he, and most preference utilitarians, strongly advocate.62 So he redefines the major premise of the “sanctity of life ethic” as follows: “It is always intrinsically wrong to destroy a life that is worth living.”63 Such a life would not be “mere biological life”, but rather, as Glover vaguely describes it, the quality of life of one who consciously possesses preferences, plans, projects, desires, feelings, memories, a sense of identity, etc. — what later came to be grouped together in bioethics and labeled “rational attributes” and⁄or “sentience”. Only a “person” possesses a life that is worth living. Since unborn, born, and human children, as well as many ill or disabled adult human beings do not have this “quality of life”, they do not have a “life that is worth living”. Therefore, they are “non-persons” — and therefore the direct and intentional killing of these human non–persons would not necessarily be a morally evil act. Voila! The “sanctity of life ethic” now is the “quality of life ethic”!
Glover, in turn, was the academic mentor of Oxford philosopher⁄eugenicist R. M. Hare. For Hare, the early human embryo, fetus and even young child are also not “persons”. They are not “real people”; they are just “possible people” — and therefore have no serious “interests” or “preferences” to be respected. We do, however, have “some duties” toward “them”. Thus, applying a sort of mathematical trigonometry to the problem, his international public population policy proposals go like this: “The maximum duty that is imposed is to do the best impartially for all the 'possible people' there might be by having an optimal family planning or population policy, which means necessarily excluding some possible people.” Indeed. Hare asserts that “the best policy will be the one which produces that set of people, of all "possible sets" of people, which will have in sum the best life, i.e., the best possible set of future possible people.”64 Hare's bioethics interests lie largely in translating the Gloverian theory of “preference” utilitarianism into national (i.e., British) and global population public policies. One of Hare's most prominent students at Oxford was Peter Singer.
Most bioethicists today — to one degree or another — agree that a “person” is to be defined in terms of such “rational attributes” or “sentience”. What are really “morally relevant” are “quality of life” characteristics, “preferences”, or “interests”. So too argues Peter Singer, currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University's Center for Human Values. Like Glover and Hare before him, Singer — the founder and first President of the International Bioethics Institute at the U. N., and the founder of “animal rights” — argues that the higher primates, e.g., dogs, pigs, apes, monkeys — even prawns — are persons, because they exercise “rational attributes” and⁄or “sentience”. However, some human beings, even normal human infants, as well as disabled and ill human adults, are not persons.65
American philosopher⁄bioethicist Richard Frey, pushing Singer's logic, actually published an article in a major international bioethics textbook that, since many adult human beings are not persons (e.g., Parkinson's patients, the mentally ill and retarded, the frail elderly, etc.), and since many of the higher primates are persons, then these adult human non–persons should be substituted in purely experimental research in place of the higher primates who are persons.66
Recently, Singer applied his form of “preference utilitarianism” to bestiality. He concluded that bestiality can be an “ethically correct” action, as long as it is not cruel, if it satisfies the preferences (e.g., sexual pleasure) of those affected (i.e., the human person and the animal), and if it has the best consequences for the greatest number of people involved (i.e., the total amount of “pleasure” experienced in the world would be increased).67 And, of course, since Singer defines many animals as “people”, then “the greatest number of people” for Singer would include some human beings and some animals. Therefore, bestiality can indeed be “ethical”. This is surely “theory” run amok!
American bioethicst and “preference” utilitarian philosopher Peter Suber also attacks the “sanctity of life ethic”, which always entails a different definition of “person”: “The 'life' that has sanctity for SL [“sanctity of life ethic”] is biological vitality, perhaps with a spiritual glow, but not the complex of powers and interests that we collectively call the person.”68 This dogma then allows Suber to argue for the range of other bioethics positions already noted — including abortion, euthanasia, and eugenics. He too is impatient with those who would fail to consider “the degree or kind of suffering, deterioration, dependency, or development they manifest, and regardless of the imminence of death, the burden on others, and the wishes of the subject to live or die.” Suber prefers a “combined quality of life” ethics.69
United Nations consultant⁄bioethicist⁄biologist Darryl Macer (Japan) also defines a “person” similar to Glover, Hare, and Singer: “A person is generally referred to as someone who is rational, capable of free choices, and is a coherent, continuing and autonomous centre of sensations, experiences, emotions, volitions and actions; these are what may be called the characters of a person.”70
Macer, like so many others in the field, conveniently continues to ground his “embryology” and “personhood” concepts at least in part on the amazingly flawed but influential bioethics book by Australian theologian Fr. Norman Ford, When Did I Begin?.71 Ford himself, unabashedly and without cross-verification, used and applied the same erroneous “human embryology” — as well as the same “moral” conclusions that follow from it — that McCormick and Grobstein used to fashion their scientifically erroneous concept of a “pre–embryo”. Macer argues that the life of a 1–cell embryo is not sacrosanct, and has never been, even in theological circles. “It is clear that the biological qualities of personhood are not present at conception; what is present is something we call the embryo, ... but it does not manifest the activities of a human person. It is a potential human person, at the biological level at least, rather than a human person with potential.” Ultimately, Macer leans toward the socially acceptable concept of the “gradual” attainment of “personhood” and “brain birth”,72 and is a strong proponent of global birth control.73
However, although a living human embryo or fetus does not qualify as a “person” for Macer, their manipulation (or destruction) can be useful for purposes of “positive eugenics” — for a “healthy society”. Macer clearly articulates the international bioethics case for “positive eugenics.”74 But as with all utilitarian theories, there is virtually no “ethical” consideration given to the “means used” to achieve this eugenics agenda. Nor would they need to. The reality of the person of the individual human being at fertilization has been disposed of — “scientifically”, conceptually, and linguistically. It simply remains to be concretized in all international law.
Or ponder the contemporary thoughts of one of bioethics' founders, “Christian bioethicist” Tristram Engelhardt: “Persons in the strict sense are moral agents who are self–conscious, rational, and capable of free choice and of having interests. This includes not only normal adult humans, but possibly extraterrestrials with similar powers.”75
Obviously, “personhood” has been and still is used as a linguistic device for various unethical purposes. It has been used in the medical arena as a justification for abortion, the use of abortifacients, international population policies, euthanasia, and a multitude of related bioethics issues — and often for eugenic purposes. Indeed, many of the leading “savants” who pioneered the early formation of the field of bioethics were quite outspoken eugenicists. This has not changed; it is merely getting more vocal and more universal.
For example, sounding much like Hare (above), bioethicist Dan Wikler, as representative of the World Health Organization, recently declared that: “The state of a nation's gene pool should be subject to government policies rather than left to the whim of individuals. ... The completion of the human genome project would also make it possible to promote some genetic qualities such as intelligence and lower the incidence of others. ... It may be conceivably required by justice itself”76 [“justice”, as in Rawls!]
Of course, the “gene pool” must also be determined by means of abortion, the use of abortifacients, infanticide, IVF, pre–natal selection, surrogate mothers, human embryo and fetal research, human cloning, human chimera research, human embryonic and human fetal “stem cell” research, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, etc. These are the usual “bioethics” issues, accomplished via “absolute autonomy” (at least for now) and the other bioethics principles as originally defined. These are not just “issues”, but also the “tools” required to advance a global eugenics agenda — just read their works, and listen to their lectures. And it is the Catholic ObGyn who is standing in the way!