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A very merry Peter Singer Christmas: Tell that “Batkid” with leukemia to just go die

December 24, 2013

Yuletide with the Princeton “bioethicist” who thinks it’s OK for parents to kill their newborns:

If the sight of 20,000 people joining in last month to help the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the city of San Francisco fulfill the superhero fantasies of a 5-year-old — and not just any 5-year-old, but one who has been battling a life-threatening disease — doesn’t warm your heart, you must be numb to basic human emotions.

Yet we can still ask if these emotions are the best guide to what we ought to do. According to Make-A-Wish, the average cost of realizing the wish of a child with a life-threatening illness is $7,500. That sum, if donated to the Against Malaria Foundation and used to provide bed nets to families in malaria-prone regions, could save the lives of at least two or three children (and that’s a conservative estimate). If donated to the Fistula Foundation, it could pay for surgeries for approximately 17 young mothers who, without that assistance, will be unable to prevent their bodily wastes from leaking through their vaginas and hence are likely to be outcasts for the rest of their lives. If donated to the Seva Foundation to treat trachoma and other common causes of blindness in developing countries, it could protect 100 children from losing their sight as they grow older.

Why then do so many people give to Make-A-Wish, when there are more practical ways of using their charitable dollars? The answer lies, at least in part, in those above-mentioned emotions, which, as psychological research shows, make the plight of a single identifiable individual much more salient to us than that of a large number of people we cannot identify.

So, what we need are super-smart people like Peter Singer to tell us where to put our charity dollars:

[T]he unknown and unknowable children who will be infected with malaria without bed nets just don’t grab our emotions like the kid with leukemia we can watch on TV. That is a flaw in our emotional make-up, one that developed over millions of years when we could help only people we could see in front of us. It is not justification for ignoring the needs of distant strangers.

Singer also puts in a plug for his Life You Can Save Foundation, which will inform us flawed-emotion types just how stupid we were to write out a check for Batkid instead of funding Singer’s bed net project:

The Life You Can Save is part of a broader movement known as the Effective Altruism movement. Effective Altruists are individuals who devote a significant part of their life to improving the world as effectively as they can. The Effective Altruism movement is young but growing steadily and we welcome the day when Effective Altruism is a commonly recognizable lifestyle choice.

But guess what? It turns out that impoverished Third World people can’t stand those free bed nets that are the pet project of “effective altruists,” especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the favorite locale for international do-gooders’ social experiments:

The [research] team, from the French Institute for Development Research (IRD) and the Institute for Health Sciences Research in Burkina Faso, set out to compare the acceptability of two different types of insecticide-treated net in the southwestern village of Soumousso.

But they were surprised to find that a third of people receiving any kind of bednet stopped using it after six months.


Houses in the village often have one or two multipurpose rooms, where families both sleep and eat. Leaving a mosquito net hanging in the middle of a busy room all day is simply not practical, the research found, and taking it down and re-hanging it every night is cumbersome.

Plus, lots of recipients of the bed nets turn around and sell them. Why not–they’re free! Or they refuse to use them in the first place. Which means the nets are completely ineffective in reducing the mosquito population.

So, hey, Professor Singer, maybe it’s not so dumb after all to give your money instead to a charity that cheers up the last few months of life for a dying 5-year-old child.

BTW, there’s a highly effective way to kill mosquitos and reduce the 1 million annual deaths attributable to malaria. It’s called DDT. But it’s politically incorrect.

Posted by Charlotte Allen


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