Noted atheist Richard Dawkins recently responded to a hypothetical question about being pregnant with a baby with Down syndrome by telling a woman to “abort it and try again,” arguing that it would be “immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”
A few days later, Dawkins walked back his comments a bit, apologizing for “impugning the morality of the approximately ten percent of women who deliberately choose NOT to abort a Down’s fetus.”
Dawkins’ comments were at the center of a New York Times op-ed published Thursday, entitled “The Truth About Down Syndrome.” Shockingly, the op-ed, authored by Jamie Edgin, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, and Fabian Fernandez, a research associate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was sympathetic to families with children with Down syndrome. Edgin and Fernandez write:
…Mr. Dawkins suggested that his view was rooted in the moral principle of reducing overall suffering whenever possible — in this case, that of individuals born with Down syndrome and their families.
But Mr. Dawkins’s argument is flawed. Not because his moral reasoning is wrong, necessarily (that is a question for another day), but because his understanding of the facts is mistaken. Recent research indicates that individuals with Down syndrome can experience more happiness and potential for success than Mr. Dawkins seems to appreciate.
In 2010, researchers reported that parents of preschoolers with Down syndrome experienced lower levels of stress than parents of preschoolers with autism. In 2007, researchers found that the divorce rate in families with a child with Down syndrome was lower on average than that in families with a child with other congenital abnormalities and in those with a nondisabled child.
In another study, 88 percent of siblings reported feeling that they themselves were better people for having a younger sibling with Down syndrome; and of 284 respondents to a survey of those with Down syndrome over the age of 12, 99 percent stated they were personally happy with their own lives.
While Heaton was disheartened to read some of the comments left in response to the op-ed, her followers were happy to read a rejoinder to Dawkins.