Richard Dawkins reignites pain and fury with comments about babies with Down’s Syndrome

Harriet Brewis
Sunday 16 May 2021 20:39
news

Richard Dawkins has reignited the fury and hurt he caused seven years ago with a new round of comments about babies with Down’s Syndrome.

The evolutionary biologist was speaking to RTE presenter Brendan O’Connor about his latest book when he shared his deeply offensive view on children with the genetic condition.

The discussion came about after O’Connor – whose daughter has Down’s Syndrome – challenged the scientist over a Twitter exchange he had in 2014.

At the time, a user wrote to him saying she would face a “real ethical dilemma” if she found out she was pregnant with a baby who had the chromosomal condition.

Dawkins replied: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice”.

O’Connor touched on the subject during their interview, asking The God Delusion to offer his justification for the assessment.

Admitting that he had “probably” put his view “a bit too strongly” previously, Dawkins said: “Given that the amount of suffering in the world probably does not go down – probably does go up – compared to having another child who doesn’t have Down’s Syndrome, then that’s what I meant.”

Challenged on the view, he admitted that he had “no direct evidence” for the assertion, but said: “It seems to me to be plausible that you probably would increase the amount of happiness in the world more by having another child instead [of one with a disability].”

He went on to admit that he did not know anyone with Down’s Syndrome “intimately," to which O’Connor responded: "Everyone has their own experience of it, and possibly my experience would be that you’re not necessarily right, and I think a lot of people would say you’re not necessarily right.”

O’Connor was right – plenty of people said that Dawkins was dead wrong.

Here’s how Twitter users have responded to the exchange:

Mum Rachel Mewes was so appalled by his comments that she set up a petition calling on Oxford University to withdraw the biologist’s Emeritus Status.

In a impassioned statement on the Change.org page, she wrote: “Emeritus status is a great accolade and it exists to recognise and honour academics who have had a distinguished career. We would like you to consider whether you feel that a person in this position should be using his status to engender hate towards women, who have had a baby with Down’s Syndrome, and towards people with Down’s Syndrome.”

She continued: “There is no place for hate like this in the United Kingdom and a man who seeks to perpetuate dangerous views does not deserve the accolade The University of Oxford bestowed upon him.

“Dawkins must be held to account for the hate he is peddling. His views are not only prejudiced and offensive, but untrue and create a dangerous precedent for hate towards our community.”

It has now been signed more than 1,000 people. You can join them here.

Dawkins (second from right) poses during an Honourary Doctorate ceremony at Antwerp University in 2009

(Getty Images)

The petition comes just weeks after the ethologist was stripped of a “humanist of the year” award after making controversial comments on social media about transgender rights.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) withdrew the honour it had conferred him in 1996 for his “significant contributions” in communicating scientific concepts to the public.

The AHA said its decision was made in light of a tweet the author had posted earlier in the month.

He wrote on 10 April: “In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black.

“Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss.”

Dolezal was forced to resign from her position at the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) after being exposed as a white woman claiming to be black.

In a follow-up comment, Dawkins clarified: “I do not intend to disparage trans people. I see that my academic ‘Discuss’ question has been misconstrued as such and I deplore this.

“It was also not my intent to ally in any way with Republican bigots in US now exploiting this issue .”

Following the online backlash that ensued, the AHA said Mr Dawkins had “over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalized groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values.”

It added: “His latest statement implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking Black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient.

“His subsequent attempts at clarification are inadequate and convey neither sensitivity nor sincerity.”

Clearly, it wasn’t the last time he would convey an opinion with a total lack of sensitivity.

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