Richard Dawkins, the Oxford professor and atheist writer, has stated that it is ‘immoral’ to allow unborn Down’s syndrome babies to live.
He posted a message on Twitter saying that expecting parents who learn of their child’s condition should have the ethical responsibility to abort the baby and try again.
These comments caused online fury from his opponents and were dismissed outright by charities. However, he insisted that his view was extremely civilised because foetuses have no human feelings.
He claimed that the most important question to be answered in the debate about abortion is not if the foetus is human, but rather if it would suffer. He said that people have no right to right to raise objections to abortion if they choose to eat meat.
In England and Wales, about 1000 abortions are done on foetuses with Down’s syndrome. However, earlier this year it was revealed that almost 50% of them did not appear on the official records of the Department of Health.
According to anti-abortion campaigners, the practice of foetus abortion based on physical grounds is a form of ‘eugenics’.
Professor Dawkins defended abortion as standard practice and derided his critics for classifying him as a ‘horrid monster’.
This argument commenced during a Twitter debate about calls for changes to Ireland’s abortion laws after a rape victim was forced to carry the child until such time as she was able to deliver the baby by caesarean section.
One of the participants in the discussion said they would have to endure a real ethical dilemma if they were pregnant with a child who had the condition.
Professor Dawkins replied to this by saying it should be aborted and the couple should try again. He said it would be immoral to give birth to it and bring it into the world, if there was a choice not to.
Another participant referred to recent figures which showed that 994 human beings were killed before their birth in England and Wales during 2012 because they had Down’s syndrome, and asked if this was civilised.
Professor Dawkins responded by saying that it is very civilised as these are foetuses which have been diagnosed prior to having human feelings.
He insisted that his view was not related to those with the condition who have already been born, but only those who have not yet been born.
He wrote that there is a profound moral difference between ‘the foetus should now be aborted’ and ‘this person should have been aborted years ago’.
His response to a thread discussing whether animals feel fear, was, ‘precisely my point. Unless you are a vegan (most pro-lifers are not) you are in no position to object to abortion’.
Once he was faced with a host of different comments, he wrote that he was apparently a horrid monster for recommending what actually happens to most foetuses with Down’s syndrome, as they are aborted.
The chief executive of the Down’s Syndrome Association, Carol Boy, rejected the remarks made by Professor Dawkins. She said that people with the condition can and do live very full and rewarding lives and make a useful contribution to society. She said that their association does not believe that the condition should be a reason to terminate the pregnancy, but families should make their own choices.
She stated that the DSA aims to ensure that all parents-to-be are provided with the latest, most accurate information about the condition and how it may affect their life.
A spokesperson from Scope said that being told you are expecting a disabled child is a very confusing and difficult period for parents. Sadly many of the parents have said they experience negative feelings, but what they really need at this difficult time is thorough information and sensitive advice.
Image Credit: Annika Leigh