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Downs’s syndrome

October 2014

Former university professor Richard Dawkins, the champion of humanism, has been forced to defend himself over comments he made on Twitter about Down’s syndrome.

Dr Dawkins took to the social media platform in August, suggesting that it would be ‘immoral’ of parents not to abort a baby with Down’s syndrome.

On Twitter, he responded to a woman asking what would happen if her unborn child was diagnosed with the condition. He said, ‘abort it and try again’, adding that given the dilemma, it would be ‘immoral to bring it into the world if you had the choice’.

His comments provoked a furious backlash, not least from Sunday Times columnist Dominic Lawson, whose 19-year-old daughter has an ‘irrepressible joie de vivre’ despite having the condition. Mr Lawson said, ‘This could only be believed by a person who has never taken the trouble to investigate the matter’.

It could be argued that the same lack of critical investigation has been evidenced for a long time in the way Dr Dawkins has taken side-swipes at religion. In a statement, the Down’s Syndrome Association said, ‘People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives. They also make a valuable contribution to our society. We do not believe Down’s syndrome in itself should be a reason for termination’.

Following the furore, Dr Dawkins wrote a defensive apology on his website, which stated: ‘What I was saying simply follows logically from the ordinary pro-choice stance that most of us, I presume, espouse.

‘My phraseology may have been tactlessly vulnerable to misunderstanding, but I can’t help feeling that at least half the problem lies in a wanton eagerness to misunderstand’.