Bioethics Blogs

A Response to Richard Dawkins on Down Syndrome

Chris Kaposy argues that Richard Dawkins is wrong about what it is like to live with Down syndrome.

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The famous Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins recently declared on twitter that it “would be immoral” to bring a baby with Down syndrome into the world if one has the option of selective abortion. His advice: “Abort it and try again”. Dawkins then explained that he “OBVIOUSLY wouldn’t TELL a woman what to do” (emphasis in original).

Later on his website, Dawkins clarified that he fully supports a woman’s right to choose whether to selectively abort for Down syndrome, but that his own choice would be to abort. He wrote, “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”. He called this “an apology”.

University of Oxford Botanic Garden

Dawkins suggests that his recommendation of aborting fetuses with Down syndrome is based “on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering”. Further, he claims that giving birth to a child with Down syndrome “might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare”.

Dawkins’ position on this issue is confusing, but not uncommon. On the one hand, he wants to say that reproductive choices ought to be respected. On the other hand, he wants to say that one particular reproductive choice – namely, choosing to give birth to a child with Down syndrome – is immoral. He doesn’t want to force anyone to have an abortion, but he reserves the right to criticize some choices as immoral.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.