I have met Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, on two occasions. Both times, I invited him to do a public debate with our then Chairman of the Board, Dr. Nigel Cameron.
The first debate, “The Debate of the Century: What Does it Mean to Be Human” can be viewed on Vimeo here. The second, “The Debate of the Century, Part 2: Is it Always Wrong to Take Innocent Human Life?” is on DVD here. They are good debates to watch if you want to get into the mind of one of the most famous utilitarian ethicists of the 21st century. Because of his controversial views, Singer is a lightning rod on issues like infanticide, assisted suicide, and animal rights.
There is much about which I disagree with Peter Singer, but as he is influential, I follow his writings and I also follow him on social media. He posted something on his Instagram page the other day that I found myself agreeing with.
“At Princeton, I’m often asked by my students, ‘should I donate to Princeton University?’ What I say to them is, ‘If that’s something you want to do, if you feel some loyalty or some gratitude to the institution that has educated you so well – then sure, donate something. But don’t confuse that with effective altruism because Princeton has an endowment of over $20 billion at the moment. Princeton is a wonderful institution, but it already has what it needs to continue to be a wonderful institution, and you’re not going to make all that much difference to it; whereas, there are other things you can do where your donation will make a much more significant difference to specific people.’”
This statement reminded me of a piece I wrote awhile back on a Malcolm Gladwell episode I listened to on his podcast Revisionist History, called, “My Little 100 million.” I titled my piece, “An Immediate and Substantial Difference.” In this episode, Gladwell tells the story of how Henry “Hank” Rowan kickstarted higher education philanthropy in the 90s by giving a $100 million gift to the near bankrupt Glassboro State College in New Jersey vs. giving it to his alma mater, MIT. Rowan knew what Singer knew. His $100 million, if given to MIT, wouldn’t make much of a difference but it would make a significant difference to Glassboro State College (now Rowan University.) Gladwell goes on to unpack the question of when is enough, enough?
For example, would Stanford University, or Columbia University, or Princeton University ever turn away a major gift, saying “we have enough, give it to another organization or university who could really use the money.” Gladwell interviews the president of Stanford University who answers this question by saying there would never be a major gift the university would turn down. Never.
And so, I agree with Singer on this one, and Gladwell, and Rowan. Do you want to make an immediate and substantial difference with your charitable giving? Do you want to be sure that your charitable giving brings about the greatest possible impact based on your personal values? Then support the work of the CBC!
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- Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.