Richard Dawkins: ‘Wise and Sensible’ to Abort Babies with Down Syndrome
I have rarely seen a more vivid illustration of the lethal consequences of utilitarian thinking.
In 2014, Richard Dawkins was asked on Twitter what a woman carrying a Down baby should do. His response was blunt and curt:
Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.
On what possible basis could it be “immoral” to bring one of these sweet and loving people into the world?
Seven years later, he explained in a podcast interview (ostensibly, about his new book) with Brendan O’Connor, the father of a child with Down syndrome. After some interesting back-and-forth about the importance of science, scientists and religion, and COVID, Dawkins was asked directly about the above tweet. The famous atheism prosylitizer explained:
That was probably putting it a bit too strongly. But given that the amount of suffering in the world probably does not go down, but probably does go up compared to another child who does not have Down syndrome . . .
When eliminating suffering because society’s first priority — instead of protecting innocent human life — it very easily metastasizes into eliminating the sufferer. And the suffering need not even be that of the person eliminated, but of family or society. Utilitarianism always leads to justifying killing.
O’Connor interrupted Dawkins at that point and asked how he knows that there would be less suffering. Dawkins responded:
I don’t know for certain. It seems to me to be plausible. You probably would increase the amount of happiness in the world more by having another child instead.
Good grief, if human life has intrinsic value — that is, it matters morally simply because one is human — the issue of whether there is more or less suffering, or more or less “happiness,” is utterly irrelevant! Indeed, if we are to maintain humane, equal, and moral societies — if we are to protect the weak, vulnerable, and dependent — such considerations must be of no consequence whatsoever.
O’Connor pushed back:
O’Connor: But you have no reason for knowing that.
Dawkins: I have no direct evidence.
O’Connor (sarcastically): Ok. You know you’re such a scientific, logical person I thought you could possibly have some logical backup to it.
Of course, this isn’t an issue of “science” but of morality and ethics. Do we have the love in our hearts to embrace these beautiful people? These days, so many precious people with Down syndrome are aborted, meaning so few are born that we are all the losers.
Dawkins admits he doesn’t know anyone with Down syndrome and O’Connor says that “everyone has their own experience of it” and that there are many who think he is not necessarily right.
O’Connor: Do you think it would be immoral not to do it?
Dawkins: Let’s leave out the immoral.
O’Connor: You brought immoral into it.
Dawkins: Okay. I take that back. But it would be wise and sensible.
O’Connor: Do you know children who are so-called perfect can cause terrible suffering in the world too. But I suppose we have no way of checking.
Dawkins. No. Of course.
I am glad O’Connor handed Dawkins his lunch.
But we need to reflect: Dawkins’s attitude illustrates the consequences that flow directly from rejecting human exceptionalism — which Dawkins has done repeatedly over the years. Human unexceptionalism (if you will) has led to so much evil in the world that it can’t be quantified — from slavery and Jim Crow to eugenics and genocide.
Gratifyingly, Dawkins is being hit with the brickbats that he so richly deserves.