Richard Dawkins ruffled more than my own feathers recently. The world's most famous atheist suggested that when it comes to birthing a child with Down Syndrome, there is no ethical dilemma. His advice was simple:
Immoral? I get that Dawkins is a Darwinist, but basing a person's worth solely on his contribution to society—well, that's where all manner of immoral behavior starts and finishes. What defines us as useful? Being able to hold a job, a conversation? And who is Dawkins to decide what is useful, anyway? As the saying goes (and the irony is wholly intentional in this case): who died and made you God?
When asked at what point would Dawkins draw the line—what about autism, say—he carefully retreated:
Not enhanced? Forgive me, I thought we were talking about human beings here, not cyborgs. Or maybe they are one and the same in Dawkins' world. On this last point, he is guilty of the all-too-common misconception that all Autistics are savants. I have news for him. Not all people on the spectrum are "enhanced," to use his phrasing.
What would he see done with those who remain non-verbal all their lives? And many of those autistics with the high-functioning label can't live alone or get a job. So what should be done with them? If such arguments sound familiar, you need only cast your mind back to Nazi Germany. The Sterilization Law aimed to 'improve' the human race through controlled breeding. Only "enhanced" specimens deserved to live...
For those of us who see intrinsic worth in human life, Dawkins' comments were painful to read. Ask the mother of a child with Down's syndrome or any other disability whether she'd do it all over again. Ask a father what he feels when his child smiles or laughs.
Raising a child with extra needs isn't an amble in the park, far from it. But does having a disabled child diminish the deep, incredible love we feel for them? Does that make their life any less worthwhile?
Human beings are more than the sum of their chromosomes, Richard Dawkins. If we open you up, does your heart still beat? Well, guess what, you should take look inside a person with Down Syndrome. You might be surprised by what you see.