Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dear Richard Dawkins: People with Down syndrome make the world a better place

The internet is abuzz with news that Richard Dawkins tweeted suggesting that it is immoral to *not* abort a baby with Down syndrome if given the opportunity to do so:

While some of his fans did approve of and agree with his view, many Twitter users did not, and people of all sorts let him know, including Sarah Palin.

He later updated his status to the more mild:
and offered a half-hearted apology where he elaborates on his view, including this gem: 

I personally would go further and say that, 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.

He then reduces opposition to his view to: 

1)people who are pro-life in general
2)people who think he was denying women choice in his view
3)people who think he was promoting mob rule by mentioning that the majority of women do abort if given a prenatal diagnosis of DS
4)people opposed to eugenics, which he points out is a fallacy as DS is not an inherited condition in almost all cases
5)people who love someone with DS and are letting sentimentality rather than logic guide their position

A few of these categorizations seem astute observations. People who are truly pro-life would be opposed to his view even if it was possible to prove without a doubt that people with DS suffer and have no worth or lesser worth than other human beings. People who are truly moral relativists would believe that it is impossible to make a blanket statement about the morality of abortion of babies with DS and that it must instead be an individual decision every single time. And I'd assume that most people would think "everyone is doing it" bears very little weight on whether an action is or is not morally correct. He's also right that eugenics cannot do much about the rate of DS; killing every single person in existence with would basically have no effect on the number of people with DS born in the next generation. 
As for the last category, I have to disagree with Mr. Dawkins on the issue of love vs. logic. While logic is important, so is love. And I think most humans do believe in love, in following our hearts, even when it's illogical. His argument might fly on Vulcan, but not here. 

But most importantly, Dawkins forgot the category that comprises the largest number of people I've seen opposing his view: people who believe people with Down syndrome have equal value to all other human beings; that they can lead healthy, happy, productive lives and leave the world a better place than had they not been in it. That they can increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering in the world by being in it. 

And I believe the research backs up this view. For one thing, while people with Down syndrome experience the full range of human emotion, they almost unanimously report being happy overall with their lives (99%) and who they are (97%). In that same study, siblings of people with Down syndrome overwhelmingly (88%) report believing that their sibling with DS has made them a better person, and studies like this one investigating whether there are lasting negative effect for these siblings have found none. Yet another found that divorce rates (47%) are much lower among couples with children with DS. So who's increasing joy and who is causing suffering here Mr. Dawkins?!?

Many people with Down syndrome also make a big impact on our society as a whole. For example Lauren Potter, who plays Becky on Glee, has over 95k twitter followers, because she brings joy to her fans as a talented actress with great comedic timing (something many people with 46 chromosomes lack!) There are people with Down syndrome working as actors, models, restauranteurs, and many other jobs that improve the lives of the general public. 

So here's your daily dose of joy: 

As for the reducing suffering part? Maybe we should start with not antagonizing people who have medical conditions we don't understand, but instead look for ways to uplift them so they can do the same for us. People with disabilities can make great contributions to the world if we give them the chance. And that's not illogical or immoral, no matter what Richard Dawkins thinks. 

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