Geneticist and commentator Professor Richard Dawkins has told an Irish radio host, who has a child with Down’s syndrome, that it is “wise and sensible” to abort babies who have either Down’s syndrome, or are deaf or blind, to “increase the amount of happiness in the world”.
In 2014, Dawkins was criticised over a Twitter exchange in which he responded to a user who said she would be faced with “a real ethical dilemma” if she became pregnant with a baby with Down’s syndrome. He replied: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice”.
In an extended statement in his website, Dawkins expanded: “If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare”.
During an interview with RTE radio host Brendan O’Connor on 11 May, Dawkins was asked whether he still held these views.
O’Connor, who himself has a child with Down’s syndrome, said: “You are speaking to someone who did bring someone like that into the world”. He went on: “I would accept that fact and I wouldn’t judge anyone’s choice about that, but why is it immoral not to abort it?”
“How do you know that it increases the amount of suffering in the world to bring in a child with Down’s Syndrome?”
Dawkins responded that he “…didn’t know it for certain. It seems to me to be plausible that… if a child has any kind of disability then you probably would increase the amount of happiness in the world more by having another child instead”.
When O’Connor pressed Dawkins on whether he had any reason for knowing that, Dawkins admitted he did not ‘intimately’ know anyone with Down’s syndrome, and denied that he had any “direct evidence” to support his statement.
When asked what other disabilities he would screen out, Dawkins responded: “I think deafness, blindness…when you have the choice [..] I think it would be wise and sensible to abort a child which had a serious disability”.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “It is horrific to see a commentator with as wide a platform as Professor Dawkins displaying such blatant disregard for the facts of life for people with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities who, like all humans, are capable of living full and enriching lives”.
“The evidence shows that children with Down’s syndrome and their families are just as capable of happiness and fulfilment as the rest of society; it is sad that Professor Dawkins cannot or will not acknowledge this”.