Richard Dawkins is no stranger to controversy, but he provoked fresh outrage when he insisted this week that unborn children diagnosed with Down Syndrome should be aborted. The Independent reports on the exchange, which took place over Twitter:
“994 human beings with Down’s Syndrome deliberately killed before birth in England and Wales in 2012. Is that civilised?” @AidanMcCourt asked [Dawkins].“Yes, it is very civilised. These are fetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings,” Dawkins responded.“I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma,” @InYourFaceNYer chimed in.“Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice,” he tweeted back.
Dawkins has since apologized, but only, apparently, for the tone of his comments: “My phraseology may have been tactlessly vulnerable to misunderstanding,” he wrote. Yes, Dawkins has made offensive comments before, and he’s only one man. But it’s worth noting that he was only stating common wisdom in a more straightforward way. Abortion is a relatively common choice among mothers who receive the prenatal diagnosis: Between 60 to 90 percent of all Down Syndrome babies are aborted. And one of the main reasons why people abort them is the same reason why people support physician assisted suicide and other “mercy killings”—because, the argument goes, one ought to spare someone from living a low quality of life.We’re glad popular indignation forced Dawkins to at least make some apology, as middling as it was. But if we’re going to be at all consistent, it should also force a wider reexamination of more “respectable” applications of Dawkins’ logic.