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Discussing Instead of Defaming

Giordano Bruno Stiftung invites disability activists to joint event


Photo: Christian Voecks

After awarding the Giordano Bruno Stiftung's ethics prize on the premises of the German National Library in Frankfurt, the gbs directorate withdrew its demand for resignation to the Federal Government Commissioner for the Disabled. Instead of taking legal action against CDU politician Hubert Hüppe, the gbs proposes a joint discussion event with Hüppe and other disability activists, which should help to clear up misunderstandings.

This is the result of a letter that the foundation faxed to disability activist Ursula Lehmann today. In a letter published on and other websites, Lehmann protested against the ethics prize to Peter Singer. In a detailed reply by the gbs, the foundation's directorate once again addressed the sources of possible misunderstandings. For instance, it is a recognized procedure of analytical philosophy to first challenge facts in order to be able to justify them philosophically. This applies to the question of "truth" as well as to the question of "rights to life". A mere questioning of facts is therefore not deserving of criticism; at most, the conclusions reached by an author could be problematic. In any case, Singer has never "agitated against the disabled" - even if some passages in his texts may appear so when they are removed from the argumentative context.

"Right to life for all, duty to life for no one!"

Nevertheless, the foundation's directorate pointed out that the gbs had already criticized Singer's linking of the questions of the right to life and humane euthanasia in its 2005 fundamental publication "Manifesto of Evolutionary Humanism". Nothing has changed in the foundation's attitude. The gbs position could be reduced to the following denominator: "Right to life for all, duty to life for no one!". Of course, every human being (whether disabled or not) should have an unbreakable right to live from birth, but one should not be forced to continue living if this is not in one's own interest.

Despite concerns about some positions and formulations of its laureate, the Giordano Bruno Stiftung considers Peter Singer "one of the most important philosophers of our time, rightly teaching at one of the most prestigious universities in the world (Princeton)". Like hardly any other philosopher, Singer advanced the ethical debate in many countries. This does not only concern the recognition of animal rights, for which he was awarded in Frankfurt, but also the fight against absolute poverty, the rights of women to self-determination, or the rights of dying people. With the "principle of equal consideration of equal interests", which is at the centre of his ethics, Singer compellingly argued against discrimination of all kinds, "against racism, nationalism, fundamentalism, sexism, speciesism - and of course also against discrimination against the disabled". At the centre of Singer's approach are the "interests of individuals" - by no means the "utility to society" as Hubert Hüppe claimed "in complete misjudgment of Singer's approach".

Is the right to abortion hostile towards people with disabilities?

With regard to the Federal Government's Commissioner for the Disabled, the foundation's executive board stated that Hubert Hüppe naturally had the right to criticize Singer's positions and also the gbs' awarding of prizes. However, as Commissioner of the Federal Government, who is obliged to take special care in his argumentation, he did not have the right "to distort Peter Singer's positions in a defamatory manner and to demand that the award ceremony be prevented in the rooms of the German National Library".

Those responsible for the foundation stated that they could understand that Hüppe, who contributed a greeting to the "march for life" of radical pro-life activists, did not agree with Singer's advocacy for the right to have an abortion. But according to the gbs, Hüppe should have emphasized this point in his statement instead of artificially constructing a dissent that in reality does not even exist: "None of us denies that disabled people deserve every support in order to be able to participate in social life! In this respect, we are all pulling in the same direction! However, we disagree with Hubert Hüppe as far as the right to terminate a pregnancy is concerned. And many disabled people also clearly disagree with Hüppe's views on this point. It is therefore wrong to try and construct a conflict line between Hubert Hüppe and the disabled activists on the one side and the Giordano Bruno Stiftung on the other side". Many disabled activists, according to the gbs executive board, do not represent Hubert Hüppe's positions on abortion or PGD, but the positions of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung. This also explains why "an above-average number of disabled people and committed special needs educators" have become foundation support members in recent days.

Appeal for a fair debate

In view of Hüppe's massive attacks prior to the Frankfurt ceremony, it was appropriate to demand Hüppe's resignation from the office of the Federal Government Commissioner for the Disabled and to threaten legal action against him on the basis of false factual claims. However, after the ceremony has taken place at the planned location, the executive board decided to withdraw the resignation demand. Instead of taking legal action against Mr Hüppe, at the end of its letter the foundation proposes a joint event by the Giordano Bruno Stiftung and interested associations of the disabled, to which the Federal Government Commissioner for the Disabled is cordially invited. This event should not be about "things that all of us naturally assume, namely that disabled and non-disabled people have an inalienable right to life from birth (there are no second-class people!) or that this society must do everything to support disabled and diseased people. We should have a constructive debate on issues that are genuinely controversial between us, such as whether it is really 'anti-disabled' to advocate the admissibility of PGD or abortion. The arguments we have heard so far in support of this position have not convinced us, but we are happy to be persuaded otherwise".

Read the more detailed letter by the gbs in its original wording (in German language):