An interview with author and bioethics watchdog Wesley Smith

The Betrayal of Hippocrates

Wesley J. Smith
Laywer and Writer
Permission granted

Editor's note: “Unbeknownst to most Americans, a small but influential group of philosophers and health care policy makers are working energetically to transform our nation's medical practice and health care laws.” So goes the introduction of Wesley Smith's book, “The Culture of Death — The assault on medical ethics in America.”
WorldNetDaily staff writer and talk show host Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed Smith about his book and the growing bioethics movement.

The Interview:

How is the medical community's society changing?

What's happening is we have this ideological movement called the “bioethics movement,” which is moving us from the Hippocratic type of “do no harm” medicine that most people want their doctors to pursue to one which is based on the so–called “quality of life.”

One of the chilling things you mention in your book is all this talk about the “right to die.” We have living wills; we don't want to be hooked up to life support machines; we have a right to die. You write that the newest trend is not only the “right” to die, but a “duty to die.”

Yes. The bioethics movement is moving us towards a duty to die. The reason I start by talking about philosophies is because this is what undergirds the very horrible policies that I will describe in a moment. You and I would think, I believe, that being human is something unique and special in the world. According to the bioethics ideology, that isn't so, because we are mere biological life. There is nothing special about being human. Therefore, the bioethicists — not every bioethicist, but the primary movers and shakers in the movement — have determined we have to distinguish what makes human life — or any life — special. And they have come up with a conclusion, which is truly harmful and discriminatory. It's not whether a human being matters, but whether you are a “person.” So there are some humans who are persons, and all persons would have what you and I call human rights. But the human non–persons do not have human rights.

And who gets to make the determination of who gets to be labeled what and when?

The bioethicists are coming up with the determinations themselves, and they are teaching it at the highest universities.

Who made them the sheriff?

That's a good question. Who decided that philosophers — because that's primarily who they are — should decide what our medical ethics are and what our health care public policies are? But if you take a look at the president's commission on bioethics, guess who is manning these positions? Take a look at the most elite bioethics university positions. It is people like Peter Singer at Princeton.

That guy is a wacko!

Peter Singer epitomizes the movement I'm talking about.

For the benefit of those readers who have been spared my previous Peter Singer rants, please explain who this pretentious, arrogant, twisted academic is.

Peter Singer is an Australian, what they call a “moral philosopher.” But in his case, it is an oxymoron. He is known for two things primarily. First, he is the creator of the modern animal rights movement. He wrote a book back in the '70s called “Animal Liberation,” and the premise behind it is that humans and animals have equal inherent moral worth. Therefore, we can't use animals in animal research and things of that sort.

Even the ones that taste good?

He doesn't like you to eat them, either. Secondly, he is also the most well–known world proponent of legalizing infanticide. Now, I'm not talking about abortion. Singer and his mentor, Joseph Fletcher, might call it, in fact do call it, “post–birth abortion.”

If only their parents had practiced what the offspring now teach.

Peter Singer has said in the past that parents should have 28 days within which to keep or kill their children. He has since expanded that to one year. It is based on his idea that a newborn infant is not a person. Because a person, according to Peter Singer, is an entity who is self–aware over time. Some other bioethicists talk about it differently. Some believe in “moral personhood,” that a person is a being that can make moral decisions and be held morally accountable, for example, in a crime. But what this gets down to is deciding which of us is better than others.

These bioethicists — is there an actual, for–real academic track for that? Or are they kind of self–anointed?

Mainly what it is, is philosophy. There is no licensing to become a bioethicist. A hairdresser has to be licensed; a bioethicist doesn't. There are about 30 university postgraduate courses where people can get masters in bioethics, and the movement is only 30 years old.

So it is not unlike being a reporter. You get to be one by calling yourself one?

That's right. It's not like being a lawyer or a doctor. You are one because you call yourself one, and I guess if people pay attention and listen to what you have to say, you're right. And if people don't pay attention to what you say, I guess you're wrong.

I'm absolutely flummoxed that people could even waste a moment listening to that jerk Singer.

He is more tactless than some of the others. However, he is not an aberration. He epitomizes the movement. He has been the president of the World Bioethics Association. That may not be the exact name of the organization, but he is at the second most prestigious university in this country, one of the most prestigious in the world, holding one of the most prestigious bioethics chairs, with tenure.

Why not just write the Singers of the world off as radical left–wing wackos and abandon them to their screams in the wilderness? What kind of impact can these bioethicists have on you and me?

They are the ones who are making policy. If you go to court in a fight over a bioethics issue, guess who is testifying in court? The bioethicists! When President Clinton was determining what to do about stem-cell research, guess who made those decisions based on the recommendations of bioethicists? The person who chairs the president's bioethics commission is the president of Princeton University, who is primarily responsible for bringing Peter Singer to that university.

So it's an incestuous little club?

You have a very elite group. They are at Harvard; they are at Yale; they are at Georgetown University. Georgetown puts out the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, which is one of the primary bioethicists' journals in the whole world.

So these guys are teaching students training to be doctors?

Yes. Every doctor that graduates goes through bioethics training. And the reason I wrote “Culture of Death” is because most people don't agree with bioethics.

Our medical ethics and our public health values don't reflect the American people and our belief in the sanctity and equality of all human life. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all people are created equal.” Bioethicists reject that by definition because under bioethics, you have to prove and earn your rights by being a “person.” If you don't want to believe me, let me read something to you from the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal by a bioethicist named John Harris. This is exactly what we're talking about. Then I'd like to lead you to what results from this kind of thinking. What it means is that the people among us who are the most vulnerable, the weakest — they literally get shoved out of the life raft.

Here's what Harris says about being a “person”: “Many, if not all, of the problems of health care ethics presuppose that we have a view about what sorts of beings have something that we might think of as ultimate moral value.” Now, you and I would say all human beings have value, right?

Grudgingly, yeah, recognizing possible exceptions for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Exception noted. Well, not these guys. Here we go: “Or if this sounds too apocalyptic, then we certainly need to identify those sorts of individuals who have the highest moral value.” Now if Attorney General Ashcroft were to say we have to decide which people among us have higher moral value than others, people would be up in arms. But the bioethicists are saying that very thing, and because they are from the elite universities and part of the intelligentsia, people seem to think it is OK.

Is it because of that elitism, or is it because the mainstream just hasn't heard these outrageous claims yet?

Take a look at how the New York Times and other members of the mainstream media reported on Peter Singer. They pooh–poohed the stuff about him saying we should be able to kill babies as being taken out of context, and extolled him as this great new voice.

It seems as if we have this small collection of arrogant, pretentious academicians who are now dictating how medicine will be practiced.

It's because we have a bad case of expert–itis in this country. We think the only people who know anything are “experts,” and people kind of abdicate their belief that their own values can be important and can play a part in these issues.

When you say that some of us are not persons, then what can we do with the people who are not deemed persons? We can exploit them as if they are a natural resource, right?

That's what these clowns would say. In fact, they see non-persons basically as fields for growing body parts that can and should be harvested to be used wherever persons of higher moral value require the resource.

And there is the point. Tom Beauchamp — a major bioethicist who wrote one of the primary textbooks in bioethics, “The Principles of Biomedical ethics” — says, “Because many humans lack property of personhood or are less than full persons — they are thereby rendered equal or inferior in moral standing to some non–humans. If this conclusion is defensible, we will need to rethink our traditional view that these unlucky humans cannot be treated in the way we relevantly treat similar non–humans. For example, they might be aggressively used as human research subjects and sources of organs.” You hit the nail right on the head, Geoff.

Please tell the story you have on the dust jacket of your book about Christopher and his dad.

Christopher Campbell was a young man about 17 years old who was in an auto accident. He was unconscious for three weeks. He suddenly started to spike a terrible fever, and his father, John, says to the doctor, “Treat my son's fever. He has 105; it's going up to 106.” The doctor told the father, “What's the point? Your boy is unconscious. His life is as good as over.” And when the father continued to insist on treatment, the doctor actually laughed in his face.


Next page: Interview: Part II