The Make-a-Wish foundation reportedly sought more than $100,000 to reimburse the city of San Francisco for what it spent making the Batkid dream of little leukemia patient Miles Scott come true. Writing in the Washington Post today, the utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer points out the uncomfortable fact: that charity money could have done a lot more.
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.
"It's obvious, isn't it," Singer asks, "that saving a child's life is better than fulfilling a child's wish to be Batkid?" Yes. It is just as obvious as obvious can be. Even a five year-old could see that it's obvious. But that will not stop this line of argument (and our perhaps overly provocative headline) from enraging those who prefer to luxuriate in a bath of warm and fuzzy emotional validation, rather than to think about this simple fact: In a world of scarce resources and limitless need, it's just common sense (and common decency) to direct our charitable resources to those who need it the most. It is not moral to pour charity money into non-life-and-death causes when that money could be used to actually save human lives.
Though it is not considered polite to say it, the fact is that most of the charity money we give to less important causes represents money not given to more important causes, and that means fewer lives saved, simply due to our own whimsical preferences. That's not nice.