British author, Oxford professor and philosopher Richard Dawkins caused a stir recently when he declared, during a conversation with followers on Twitter, that women should abort a fetus upon learning that it has Down’s syndrome.
The conversation began with Dawkins musing on the plight of women in Ireland, where abortion is illegal. The conversation was prompted by a recent decision in the country to force a suicidal rape victim to give birth to a child.
“Ireland is a civilized country except in this (one) area,” Dawkins tweeted according to The Independent. “You’d think the Roman Church would have lost all influence.”
As the conversation continued, a user challenged Dawkins’ assertion and use of the word civilized.
“994 human beings with Down's Syndrome deliberately killed before birth in England and Wales in 2012. Is that civilized?” The user asked.
“Yes, it is very civilized. These are fetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings,” Dawkins answered.
“I honestly don't know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with (Down’s syndrome). Real ethical dilemma,” said another user.
To which Dawkins responded, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”
The comment drew a good deal of backlash, with parents of children with Down’s syndrome and other genetic conditions tweeting anecdotes and declarations of love for their sons and daughters.
“I would fight till my last breath for the life of my son. No dilemma,” tweeted one mother who was disturbed by the author’s comments.
Dawkins defended his statements and said he would not apologize “for approaching moral philosophic questions in a logical way,” according to The Guardian.
He also insisted he was not questioning the right of people with Down’s syndrome to live once born.
“There's a profound moral difference between ‘This fetus should now be aborted’ and ‘This person should have been aborted years ago,’” Dawkins wrote in a tweet quoted by The Telegraph.
Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, is also prominent atheist and intellectual best known for his books on evolution and his use of reason and science to debate matters of faith and religion.
Carol Boy, chief executive of the Down’s Syndrome Association, issued a statement in response to Dawkins’ tweets.
"People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society," she wrote. "At the Down’s syndrome Association, we do not believe Down’s syndrome in itself should be a reason for termination, however, we realize that families must make their own choice.”