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February 20, CBS's 60 MINUTES II aired an interview with Peter Singer.
The interview was conducted by Dan Rather.

Unconventional Wisdom

I will mention a couple of differences between the television interview and the written story:

With regard to animal experimentation, Singer said that with the permission of people's relatives, "I think there perhaps are some things which could be done with people who are no longer conscious at all and will never recover consciousness."

Omitted from the written web story is Rather's response:

"Professor, I want to be candid with you. I find this astonishing. The very concept of doing something that might take a human life when you could run the experiment on an animal is abhorrent to me."

Though not unlike organ donation, the idea certainly sounds radical and is probably not easy for most people to accept (whereas animal testing is something with which they are familiar and more comfortable). Given Rather's popularity, I suspect his use of a word such as "abhorrent" may have helped close some viewers' minds that might otherwise have been at least somewhat open to Singer's idea that a permanently unconscious person would suffer less than a perfectly conscious animal, and would thus be a more ethical choice.

The other notable difference is how much of the Tina Cartrette story gets lost in translation to the written word. The written web story tells us that "Cartrette has had cerebral palsy, severe mental retardation and seizures since infancy." Seeing footage of Tina bedridden, shaking uncontrollably, has a greater effect than hearing about her disease. And whereas the web story simply says of Tina's mother, "Her mother wanted to end Tina's life," the television story showed her mother washing and tending to Tina and saying,

"I don't think it's fair for a person to go through pain and suffering. It's not fair for a person to lay for months in a hospital hooked up to a bunch of machines when eventually it's going to be the same outcome."

The web story also omitted Singer's comment on the "Not Dead Yet" group who tried to force the hospital to keep Tina on life support systems. Singer said, "It takes a certain amount of nerve for someone who's a complete stranger to a family circle to go in and say to them, 'You can't do this; you can't make a decision for your child. We, because we're disabled, know better than you do.'"

The web story description almost makes the decision seem cold, whereas no matter how one feels about the issue, the footage of Tina's suffering and her mother's care make it harder to judge harshly those who chose to let her die more quickly.

If the American public previously had the impression that Peter Singer is a great guy and that speciesism makes no rational sense, I would think that the presentation of Singer's views and Dan Rather's outspoken stance against them would have hurt the cause. Given that Singer has tended to be demonized by the American press ever since his arrival in this country, I don't think this interview would have made matters worse. His  discussion of our inhumane attitude towards third world poverty, an issue harder for most people to shrug off than animal suffering, is persuasive. It may have led some of the audience to realize that his ideas, all of them, are indeed rounded in ethics rather than insanity and are worthy of further

No doubt 60 Minutes II will get swarms of letters horrified by Singer's radical suggestion that the suffering of nonhuman animals matters as much as the sanctity of even the non sentient human body. If CBS gets the impression that all of their audience holds that view, then the producers will assume that nobody will be offended if they air, for example, a pro vivisection piece that completely ignores animal suffering as an issue.  Thus it is important that we who speak for the animals let Dan Rather and 60 Minutes II know that to much of their audience animal suffering is a serious issue and that Singer's stance on that issue makes perfect sense. If you missed the interview, please take a look at the web story (address given above) and write a note on behalf of the animals to CBS II at:

You will need to select 60 Minutes II from the pulldown menu.

Note: Your note can be very short and will have much more impact if you do not borrow language from this alert or from anyone else's sample letter. As always, I respectfully ask activists to refrain from attaching sample letters to DawnWatch alerts; in the case of media feedback I fear they detract from the effort to inspire heartfelt original responses more likely
to be taken seriously by the station.

Yours and the animals',
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it at To subscribe to DawnWatch, email and tell me you'd like to receive alerts.  If at any time you find DawnWatch is not for you, just let me know via email and I'll take you off the subscriber list immediately. If you forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts, please do so unedited and include this tag line.)

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