(First Things) – Joseph Fletcher (1905–1991) was one the most influential philosophers and bioethicists of the twentieth century. His advocacy blazed the path for many of the radical social transitions we are experiencing today. He gained fame as the prime proponent of “situational ethics,” popularly known as social relativism. But his work in bioethics eroding the sanctity of human life and promoting a utilitarian hedonism was just as society-altering.
Starting in the early 1970s, and continuing for the rest of his life, the Episcopalian priest turned atheist mounted a frontal intellectual assault on the Judeo-Christian ideal of universal human equality.
His 1975 essay “Indicators of Humanhood” was profoundly persuasive in this regard. Published in the Hastings Center Report, an influential bioethics journal, Fletcher argued that people should be divided between “truly human beings” and the “subpersonal”—those among us whom we should deem of little consequence because of their lesser capacities. Fletcher even proposed a loose formula with fifteen “criteria or indicators” by which an individual’s moral worth—or humanhood—could be judged. CONTINUE