Why I (almost) feel sorry for Richard Dawkins

So, Richard Dawkins thinks that the moral thing to do for babies diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome in the womb is to abort them so that the parents can ‘try again’.

I’ve just read over that sentence 4 or 5 times because I can’t believe that I have actually put words together in such a way that they read that sentiment. I love words. I love writing, and I love language. It makes me feel sick, angry and incredibly sad that words have been used to convey such a despicable thing.

Before I start properly, I just want to say that I’m not trying to offer any sort of comment or opinion on abortion or right to life. The problems I have with what Dawkins said are his comments that it would be ‘immoral’ to allow a Down’s Syndrome baby to live. I offer no judgement on people’s decisions in their own lives, but I do have a problem with saying that it is immoral for Down’s Syndrome babies to be born.

Here are Professor Dawkins’ reasons for saying what he said.
1: A foetus has no human emotions therefore abortion is not wrong
2: Individuals with Down’s Syndrome have nothing to offer society and so it is better for everyone that they are not brought into the world at all.
(As a contradiction, by the way, he seems to think that those children and adults with Down’s are alright to remain alive. How magnanimous of him.)

Aside from the immense anger I feel at the injustice of his comments, I can’t help also feeling a small amount of pity towards Dawkins. He clearly places at once such little value and such an impossibly high value on human life.

I believe that every individual (from conception) has value, is valued and is important. Not because they might one day be scientists, or engineers, or diplomats, or shop keepers, or opticians, or farmers, or politicians, or computer programmers. And neither because they might be kind, or generous, or loving, or helpful, or funny, or empathetic. But simply because they have been created and are alive.

Human value cannot come from what we can do, what we are capable of or even how well we can interact with others. Because if it did how would we even begin to measure that? There would always be some people who didn’t make the cut and then we’d be living in some sort of ‘Brave New World’ or ‘The Hunger Games’. But maybe that’s actually how Dawkins views us all to begin with?

Bringing things closer to his specific comment, I have so many angry questions I want to ask him. Why Down’s Syndrome? Why stop at abortion? Why not euthanase all individuals with Down’s? Why stop at Down’s Syndrome? Why not get rid of anyone with cerebal palsy? Or Autism? (Yes I know he stated that Autism is different but I’m afraid that just doesn’t wash.) What about multiple sclerosis? In actual fact, if human value is based on productivity and contribution to society why not also throw in the deaf, the blind, people with no legs, people with heart defects, mental health problems, curvature of the spine…

You see it is not our job or our place to decide who is valuable. The word ‘value’ has so many layers and can be viewed from so many angles. There are so many beautiful faces to the human existence and anyone who has spent time with someone with Down’s Syndrome (or any other disability for that matter) will tell you how much light and joy they can bring to others as well as how much they can live a happy and fulfilled life. No, they might not become doctors or nurses or lawyers, but then neither will a whole chunk of the population for many other reasons.

As for his first point- that a foetus doesn’t have human emotions. I’m not even going to begin getting in on that debate, but all the points I’ve just made about human value still stand.

The more I think about it the more I think I actually feel sorry for Richard Dawkins. (As well as being furious and angry with him.) The beauty of humanity is its richness and its depth. It’s in something so simple as experiencing excitement, or knowing peace, or being so closely entwined with others and yet still being able to learn something new and delightful in each other.

Professor Dawkins is missing this and this is both a great travesty and a complete outrage.


Here is a great article in response to Dawkins written by a mother of a girl with Down’s Syndrome:




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