There was quite a to-do on Twitter yesterday and today, when Richard Dawkins seemed to suggest that women definitely ought to screen for and abort fetuses with Down Syndrone:
Many people thought Dawkins was telling this particular woman what to do and were outraged.
According to the Guardian, Dawkins took to his website to explain and apologize:
He added: “Those who thought I was bossily telling a woman what to do rather than let her choose, of course this was absolutely not my intention and I apologise if brevity made it look that way. My true intention was, as stated at length above, simply to say what I personally would do, based upon my own assessment of the pragmatics of the case, and my own moral philosophy which in turn is based on a desire to increase happiness and reduce suffering.”
Of course, Dawkins is very plainly arguing that “It would be immoral” to bring a Down Syndrome baby into the world “if you have the choice” not to do so. This is based, as he says, on “my own moral philosophy which in turn is based on a desire to increase happiness and reduce suffering.”
This is a fine moral philosophy, but it’s not clear what it has to do with Down Syndrome. Here’s some survey data that Dawkins apparently never heard about:
Among 2,044 parents or guardians surveyed, 79 percent reported their outlook on life was more positive because of their child with Down syndrome….
Skotko also found that among siblings ages 12 and older, 97 percent expressed feelings of pride about their brother or sister with Down syndrome and 88 percent were convinced they were better people because of their sibling with Down syndrome. A third study evaluating how adults with Down syndrome felt about themselves reports 99 percent responded they were happy with their lives, 97 percent liked who they are, and 96 percent liked how they looked.
So, it’s not clear who exactly Dawkins believes is suffering and why it’s so obviously immoral to bring a Down Syndrome baby into the world.
In addition to this issue, it seems other people were outraged because they believed Dawkins was saying that people with Down Syndrone ought to have been aborted or shouldn’t exist now. He apparently address this issue as well:
He also argued: “Those who took offence because they know and love a person with Down’s syndrome, and who thought I was saying that their loved one had no right to exist, I have sympathy for this emotional point, but it is an emotional one not a logical one. It is one of a common family of errors, one that frequently arises in the abortion debate.”
It’s not entirely clear what Dawkins is arguing here, but it sounds like he wants to discourage people from making the “emotional” point that a loved one with Down Syndrone does, in fact, have a right to exist. Instead they should be “logical” and not make what “is one of a common family of errors.” I’d go read his post to see if I could get some more information, but strangely that one page on his website is returning a “404 - Page Not Found” error and has been doing so for hours now.
So, perhaps I’m missing Dawkins’ point, but this seems like an unusual argument and one that doesn’t really fit in a post titled “Abortion & Down Syndrome: Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar.”
Except, of course, that Dawkins wasn’t really apologizing in his post, as the cheeky title suggests and as his final paragraph makes very clear:
"To conclude, 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."
You see that last sentence there? That makes it not an apology.
Which is pretty much what Dawkins was aiming for:
HT: David Watkins.