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“Immoral” to allow unborn babies with Down’s syndrome to live.

Richard Dawkins, the atheist writer, has claimed it is “immoral” to allow unborn babies with Down’s syndrome to live.  He made the comment in response to a twitter user who said she would be faced with “a real ethical dilemma” if she became pregnant and learned that the baby would be born with the disorder.  Dawkins tweeted, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

Concerning the value of unborn human life, Dawkins tweeted, “These are fetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings,” and,  “Learn to think in non-essentialist ways. The question is not ‘is it human?’  but ‘can it suffer?’”  He also appeared to put the value of human life no higher than that of any other animal – “Unless you are a vegan (most Pro-Lifers are not) you are in no position to object to abortion.”  This echoes the views of Peter Singer (see “What are humans?” below.)

Defending the human

In the Guardian, Giles Fraser wrote, “In the heat of huge public outrage, Dawkins issued one of those non-apology apologies. But the damage was done.”  

He goes on to say, “The problem with …. Dawkins’ belief that it is immoral to keep a baby with Down’s syndrome, is that it contains an implicit idea of what a better sort of human being might look like. It may seem obvious to Professor Dawkins that a tall athletic child with straight As at school is to be preferred to, let’s say, a child who has slanted eyes and a flat nasal bridge and is academically less adept, but it is not obvious to me. Morally, the category of the human ought to be entirely indivisible: all being of equal worth, irrespective of wealth, colour, class, ability. Some people are better at sport or sums, but nobody is better at being human.”

He makes the point that humanists often attack religion for putting God above humans and that, “The one thing one ought to expect from humanists is that they would be good at protecting the human, at defending human life in its own terms and for its own sake.”

However, he concludes, “Too many humanists place the category ‘human’ quite a long way down their order of importance, with things such as rationality or choice or the avoidance of pain being deemed of greater significance.  Human life can thus be easily traded away in some utilitarian calculation. It so happens that, when it comes to eugenics, religion has a much better track record at defending the human than science or left-wing progressives.”1

Negative attitudes

Carol Boy, chief executive of the Down’s Syndrome Association also rejected Dawkins' remarks. "People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society," she said.  "At the Down’s Syndrome Association, we do not believe Down’s syndrome in itself should be a reason for termination.”

A Scope spokesperson said, “Finding out you are expecting a disabled child can be a very difficult and confusing time for parents.  Sadly many tell us they experience negative attitudes. What parents really need at this time is sensitive and thorough advice and information.”2

1 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/aug/29/nobody-better-at-being-human-richard-dawkins#start-of-comments

2 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/11047072/Richard-Dawkins-immoral-to-allow-Downs-syndrome-babies-to-be-born.html

See also  The Spectator: I know that Richard Dawkins is wrong about Down’s syndrome, because I know my son - Simon Barnes


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