Richard Dawkins, whose notoriety hinges primarily on his outspoken atheism (he is the author of the wildly popular book, The God Delusion), drew attention by promoting the trend of aborting children who are diagnosed prenatally with Down Syndrome. Unfortunately, Dawkins argues that a moral imperative binds humanity to kill these children in utero. Dawkins said, Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do.
He reasons (if it can be called that) that children who have Down Syndrome should be aborted because he believes morality obliges people to “increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering.”
Dawkins’ argument is, not surprisingly, completely out-of-touch with the actual lives of children who have Down Syndrome (to whom he incorrectly refers as “Downs children” – an offensive labeling of human beings who happen to have Down Syndrome). There is legion evidence to support the positive quality of life experienced by these individuals (such as this, this, and this). And, lest Dawkins retort that he was referring to the “increased happiness” and “reduced suffering” of these individuals’ family, friends, and caregivers, these individuals consistently report being positively affected by the exuberant and unconditionally loving personalities of their loved one.
Does that mean that being an individual with Down Syndrome, or being his or her caregiver, is easy? No. People who have Down Syndrome face a host of physical and intellectual challenges that most people will never have to face. But difficulties in the grand scheme of a precious life should never be magnified in such a way as to mitigate the value of that life. At what point does the level of difficulty determine a person’s right to life? Is Mr. Dawkins prepared to arbitrate over the right to life of individuals who experience difficulty and suffering after birth, as the result of an accident, for example? This line of thought is a slippery slope.
The adoptive parent of two children with Down Syndrome weighed in on this discussion, responding to Dawkins in an open letter, saying:
Suffering is not a moral evil to be avoided. Suffering can have meaning and value. Ask Victor Frankl. Or Mohandas Gandhi. Or Martin Luther King, Jr. Or, if you’re willing, ask my children.
First-hand research is something that, apparently, Mr. Dawkins failed to accomplish before deeming himself fit to pontificate on a subject that is near and dear and personal to many individuals.
Photo via David Shankbone/Flickr