Response on BBC AQ tonight to Dawkins fuckwittery

(33 Posts)
Amethyst24 Fri 22-Aug-14 23:54:02

I'm a new poster on FWR, but I've been reading the board for a few months and have found so much food for thought. I'm nowhere near as informed as many of the posters here, so please be gentle with me.

One of the questions on Any Questions tonight was about Dawkins' horrible tweet about aborting babies with Down's Syndrome. The question itself was very emotive - it was read out my the husband of the woman who'd asked it, because she was blind and not able to read it herself. And it was basically phrased as, "Should we abort all DS babies?"

The first panelist to respond, Professor Hugh Pennington, basically said yes, on the basis that he's seen very poor outcomes for people with DS in his years working in medicine. His answer was greeted with a deathly silence.

The next three all said no, citing right to life, the feelings a pregnant woman has for her child, the real value people with DS bring to society, and so on. They were all cheered enthusiastically.

Not one of them mentioned choice. I'm trying to unpick this. Is it because a DS pregnancy is assumed to be the result of a couple who want a baby, and therefore about "them" not about "her"? Is it because when the foetus had disabilities, suddenly it is about the foetus more than about the woman carrying it and her choices?

Or were they all just after cheap, populist points, because it's so much easier to say, "A disabled foetus is as valuable as one that isn't," than, "A woman/family has the right to decide whether they want to have a baby, regardless of its viability in the short or longer term"?

I was pretty clear about my reaction to Dawkins' original tweet - "Who the fuck are you to tell women what to do?" But I think I would, if I'd ever been in that position, have done what he thinks women ought to do, because for me, I agree with him.

But I'm so enraged that the debate tonight was all about the foetus/unborn baby, not about the woman's choice.

And I've had lots of wine so I'm probably being incoherent and/or offensive. But I'd be very grateful for feedback from those who can see this more clearly than I can.

Mumzy Sat 23-Aug-14 00:16:57

I work in an area of medicine where we treat dcs with serious disabilities. Privately most doctors and nurses I worked with say they would abort a child if the scan picked up a serious medical condition or if they couldn't abort for religious reasons they would put the child up for adoption. I think if people have seen what a lot of families with disabled children go through they might understand RD's and Hugh Pennington's opinions.

lildupin Sat 23-Aug-14 00:20:05

The next three all said no, citing right to life, the feelings a pregnant woman has for her child, the real value people with DS bring to society, and so on.

Well at least one of the three cited the feelings of the gravida, so that's something! I didn't see it - who were the other panelists?

I think part of the reason why the answers went as they did was possibly because of the way the question was phrased: basically, the questioner asked if all pregnancies of DS babies should be terminated. If I was asked that question I'd immediately say "Of course not! Compulsory termination is barbaric and abusive and completely unacceptable!" and I get the impression your answer would be the same.
But it does sound like the panelists heard the question as an abstract question about the "value" hmm of people with DS and their right to life, and answered accordingly (as opposed to answering a question about the right of individual women to make their own choices about their own lives).

I too have had a reasonable amount of wine so I may not be making sense! But basically I think the panelists were responding to "should people with DS be allowed to come into existence?" and not thinking about it from the POV of a woman who's just been told her baby probably has DS.

Amethyst24 Sat 23-Aug-14 00:31:58

Thank you both. Yes, the other panelists weren't medical experts at all, and their responses, and the audience's reaction, just highlight why Dawkins should STFU about things like this, because he really does no favours to people who broadly agree with him but aren't... um... quite so abrasive.

The other panelists were Elaine C Smith, Sir Anthony Seldon and Tony Banks, none of whom I'd heard of before. She was all "as a mother" and "I have a nephew with DS", and the two men were shouting about right to life per se.

pinkpip100 Sat 23-Aug-14 00:50:07

I think that most people who disagree with Dawkins on this (as I do) are not disputing the fundamental right of a woman to choose whether to continue with a pregnancy, regardless of the circumstances, but are questioning his assertion that it would be immoral not to abort if the baby was found to have ds. His logic here is based on an unfounded assumption that ds inevitably and invariably equals unhappiness and suffering, and that people with ds make no contribution to society. This is what it sounds like the panel were arguing against, and rightly so in my view. Had Dawkins' point been that all women should have the right to choose to have an abortion if they find out the baby has ds, I think very few (rational/sane) people would disagree. My disclaimer here is that I am a pro-choice feminist and also the mother to a 1 year old with ds.

Mumzy Sat 23-Aug-14 00:52:25

When we have children most of us have no real idea what it's like to live with a child 24/7 and to be honest it's a real shock to the system to be responsible for all their needs. A child with a serious medical condition has that and the unpredictability of their condition plus having to manage their medical needs. A lot of children with serious disabilities spend more time in hospital than at home and family life is often non existent as the parents are consumed with caring for their disabled child often with little help or respite.

Amethyst24 Sat 23-Aug-14 00:55:29

Pinkpip, I agree with you broadly that Dawkins' soundbite was offensive and wrong. My problem with the arguments put forward was that they were "NO - LIFE!" rather than, "NO - CHOICE!", because the former is such an easy, populist position.

Applefallingfromthetree2 Sat 23-Aug-14 01:25:26

With Pinkpip all the way!

Pro choice is one thing and many would agree that hard as it is, a woman should have the right to abort A DS child? However the arrogance of the man to say it is someone's moral duty to do so is something else. I'm not sure what his argument is based on to be honest. Pain and suffering to the child and parents or pain and suffering to society if such children are born?

Theoretically it might be nice if we could solve all health and social difficulties that arise as a result of genetic faults. The trouble is so many illnesses and susceptibilities are routed in our inheritance quite a few of us would land up on the Dawkins scrap heap.

pinkpip100 Sat 23-Aug-14 04:14:33

But Mumzy, many many children born with ds will not have a serious medical conditions or even be considered to have a serious disability, and the majority won't spend more time in hospital than at home. Yes, there is the unpredictability of not knowing whether this could be the case - although some issues such as serious heart conditions can usually be picked up on scans - and yes, caring for a child with additional needs of course brings some additional challenges. If a woman for whatever reason does not want to add this element of unpredictability to their family dynamic then of course she should have the right to make that decision with no moral judgement applied. But I feel really strongly that women in that situation also have a right to access balanced information to base that decision on, whereas often the views given by medical professionals (and as shared so tactfully by RD) are based on outdated and 'worst case' experiences.
That said, OP I also agree that the emphasis should be placed on 'choice' rather than 'life' in the counter arguments to RD, otherwise they are all too easily dismissed as populist and uninformed.

CheerfulYank Sat 23-Aug-14 04:25:09

Ugh I despise that man. I really, truly loathe him, and that is not a sensation I'm accustomed to or comfortable with.

Immoral my motherfucking ass. No one has the right to shame a woman for refusing to abort, and that is what he has done.

He sickens me. And people who think like him on this issue. What a slippery fucking slope.

Mumzy Sat 23-Aug-14 09:00:54

I think the difference between the medical professionals and lay publics opinion in this matter is highly influenced by the fact that we as medics see thousands of disabled children and their families during the course of our working lives whereas the lay public may have the experience of one or two cases of interacting or living with children with disabilities such as Susan E Smith on the AQs panel.
We witness the anguish, the physical pain, the family breakdowns, the endless appointments, the frequent A&E visits, the mental health issues, the poverty, when we have nothing further to offer medically and families have to struggle on.
I agree it's absolutely the woman's right to choose whether she wants to have the baby but the difference to your life between having a NT child and a child with SN is so vast that some families will be destroyed by it.

Mumzy Sat 23-Aug-14 09:03:14

Sorry I meant Elaine C Smith blush

pinkpip100 Sat 23-Aug-14 09:50:00

But Mumzy, the medical professionals' experience is based on the worst case scenarios in most instances, as they wouldn't have much contact with those people, with minimal or easily treatable medical problems who are - with the support of their families - living happy, and, as adults, relatively independent lives. I know my experience is limited to having a very young child with ds but this is also the view of Down's Syndrome groups who have a far greater breadth of knowledge and experience. Your view is a very negative one and I would argue not the 'norm' for most families with children with additional needs.

Applefallingfromthetree2 Sat 23-Aug-14 10:04:53

Mumzy-what do you mean by NT?

I totally get what you mean by the pressure on the families of SN children and the pressure on society and the NHS too. I am not sure though that this means there is a moral duty to abort DS children. For a man who is considered to be so clever Dawkins has been extremely inept in putting his point across.

CaptChaos Sat 23-Aug-14 10:47:32

Apple, Mumzy means neuro-typical by NT.

So not my DS then.

Although it's nice to see that RD did make an exception for children with ASD, apparently Mumzy and her team wouldn't?

CaptChaos Sat 23-Aug-14 10:53:44

Oh, and I was being sarcastic about RD being a good chap for not including children with ASD in his eugenics plan. He's not.

Women should, at all times, have the choice to do as they please with their bodies during pregnancy. If they wish to abort when they discover they have a child with DS, then they should be able to abort, if they so choose. However, from experience, there is a lot of pressure on women to abort if their child does have DS, and it's that pressure that needs to stop. It is not immoral to bring a much wanted and loved child into the world. What is immoral is forcing women to give birth to children who are not wanted.

FairPhyllis Sat 23-Aug-14 11:12:28

I think that because Dawkins' comment was used to frame the question, that influenced the focus of the replies. So if you're responding to a comment that basically says people with Downs syndrome's lives have no value, then the responses to that are inevitably going to focus on the value of individual lives. I don't think it says anything insidious per se about people's views on women's right to choose, and I am normally first to start worrying about threats to women's autonomy.

I do admire Dawkins very much for his earlier work as an evolutionary biologist, but he needs to stop doing moral philosophy in public, because he reveals himself as utterly loathsome whenever he does it.

However ... I DO think that the public in general are poorly informed about just how bad medical and developmental problems and learning difficulties in conditions like Downs can be. And about the impact that that can have on whole families. I think the increased visibility (which in itself is a good thing) of people with Downs who can lead semi-independent, functioning lives has given people the impression that Downs and other neurodevelopmental disorders are much milder than they can be. The worst case scenarios really are very bad, and they are not at all visible to most people.

CaptChaos Sat 23-Aug-14 11:20:06

My understanding of it is that RD was answering a question posed by a woman on Twitter. She said that she didn't know what she would do if she discovered she was pregnant with a child with DS. His response was simply abort it and try again, it would be immoral to bring it into the world if you had the choice. He then went on to imply that people having children with DS reduce the sum total of happiness in the world.

It is not people with disabilities who reduce the sum total of happiness in the world, it's people who make their lives miserable that do.

pinkpip100 Sat 23-Aug-14 11:34:57

NT = neurotypical (I think!)
Thinking about it, by this reasoning, it would also be immoral not to abort if, for example, a serious heart condition/bowel disorder/kidney problem/cleft palate etc etc was identified through pre-natal scans, even in an otherwise 'NT' foetus, as these conditions all pose the risk of additional burden on the NHS and potential pain and suffering for families. I don't see many people arguing that point. Again, the right to choose this course should always be protected, but as I said before, a woman also has a right to unbiased information to help make that decision. And a right not to be challenged as bring 'immoral' if they choose to go ahead with the pregnancy.

pinkpip100 Sat 23-Aug-14 11:41:04

Sorry, cross-posted with many people!
Actually I think the opposite is true about how people perceive ds. We certainly had a far more 'negative' view of our daughter's diagnosis when we were first told about it than we do now, a year later, having met and communicated with many families with children of all ages whose lives have, yes, been changed but no, certainly not destroyed, by ds. I guess in the media we tend to hear about the best and worse case scenarios and not much about the day to day reality, which most of the time is - in my experience- not that different to the reality of life with my other (NT) children.

IMO throwing DS (or any other disability) in to the debate is just a red-herring.
It IS (or should be) about choice and not about whether or not one life is more 'valuable' than another FFS.

None of us know how our pregnancies turn out, plenty of foetuses with a normal karyotype are not NT or are ill or have accidents or acquire CP at birth - maybe we should just terminate all pregnancies and be done with all the pesky risks of a less than perfect family life!

Oh, this makes me angry.

I agree that people have no idea what it's like to look after a baby and then a child and they have even less of a clue what it's like with added challenges and when the child in question has limitations that will never get better.

Sorry, I am a bit incoherent, but yes, OP, I agree with you, it is about choice and not picking out conditions not worthy of life. The Nazis <invokes Goodwin's law> coined the phrase of 'unwertes Leben' which included such terrible conditions like homosexuality.

capant Sat 23-Aug-14 11:46:59

I think there has to be real information about what having a severely disabled child means.

A friend has a severely disabled adult sister. Her sister is happy and has a good life. Her and her brother both say that caring for her put an incredible strain on the family and meant that they were overlooked as children. And now as adults they are having to make sure their elderly parents are cared for, and organise and manage carers for their sister.

The sheer practicalities of looking after a physically and learning disabled adult with serious medical problems, are immense.

ElephantsNeverForgive Sat 23-Aug-14 11:55:24

This is not solely about a women's choice. It's about a couples choice.

DH and I agreed to have AN tests and to abort any child found to have a significant disability, before we TTC.

I don't believe this you only get the children you can cope with crap, we would be useless.

ElephantsNeverForgive Sat 23-Aug-14 12:04:40

The moral argument about is it fair on the child, depends on the disability.

I couldn't bring a child into the world knowing it had a life limiting genetic condition and the intellectual ability to google it's prognosis.

But, this is my personal position, unlike mr. Dawkins I don't feel any right to lecture anyone else.

capant Sat 23-Aug-14 12:16:06

A life limiting genetic condition is such a broad category. It can mean like my friend who was born with heart problems, having an operation as a child and taking medication, but working full time with a life expectancy of 50. Or it can mean a very short lifetime of pain and medical interventions.

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