In 2014, avowed atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins sparked controversy by responding on Twitter to a woman’s hypothetical question about carrying a child with Down syndrome to term. His advice, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” Dawkins said his rationale is based on his own moral philosophy “to increase happiness and reduce suffering.”
When families are faced with a pregnancy involving a potential birth defect, they often face challenging questions from doctors and medical professionals who encourage abortion. As science has evolved, the acceptance of those born with certain disabilities, like Down syndrome, has dwindled. In 1971, geneticist Dr. Bentley Glass wrote, “No parents will in that future time have a right to burden society with a malformed or a mentally incompetent child.” Though families currently are allowed to make decisions on whether or not to continue the pregnancy, the overwhelming negativity from the medical community makes the decision to choose life more difficult.
Here are some examples of the discrimination and discouragement that families have faced for choosing life:
- A mother was told by her doctor after a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis that her child would only live about three years when the life expectancy at that time was actually 50 years.
- An insurance company informed one prospective mother that if she underwent prenatal testing for Down syndrome, she would have to abort the baby if the test was positive. If she decided to continue the pregnancy, the child would not be covered.
- A California prenatal screening program described the continuation of a pregnancy with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome as a “missed opportunity” for abortion.
As families grapple with the shock of a diagnosis like Down syndrome, the lack of support and inaccurate information from the medical community increases their anxiety. The fear that living with a disability is a burden rather than possibly a blessing can coerce a family into making the life-changing decision to end a pregnancy through abortion.
Alexandra Desanctis, from National Review , perhaps best describes the current environment. “Too many people today believe it is preferable, and indeed more humane, to murder children rather than allow them to suffer. But what life doesn’t have suffering? How impoverished must we be to believe that no life at all is better than a life touched by pain?”
Though there are difficult times, families with a child with Down syndrome often experience joy. Janet Stafford, a mother to a child who has Down syndrome, says, “It’s different joy than we would’ve experienced without her. Her milestones are more cherished.” (You can read more about Janet and her family here.)