Should We Abort Unborn Babies With Down Syndrome?
By David Metcalfe
March 2, 2018
Whether or not abortion is an acceptable practice is no longer up for debate in Canada. Not only is it assumed that abortion is completely ethical, but law makers are now adding to allow for increased abortion options and accessibility. One of Canada’s leading experts on abortion rights recently suggested that all babies with Down syndrome should be aborted.
Well, I’m here to say that the debate is not solved, and I would like to offer an alternative perspective to the one that has overtaken nearly the entirety of academic and political spheres. While a comprehensive examination of every aspect of the abortion debate would be exhaustive, I will instead argue a case against the reasoning that was employed today at the legal ethics conference I attended. In doing so, I intend to prove that it is morally wrong to abort an unborn baby with Down syndrome.
I will not use the name of the speaker I am arguing against, because I’m not trying to argue against a person, but rather an idea. I will just call her “Dr. H”.
I will not introduce any new facts into the case, as Dr. H and I are in agreement as to what the current literature suggests on the topic. I will also not argue a different approach to fundamental legal ethics, as we also agree on that. Where we disagree is in our reasoning process from the facts and fundamental ethics to our conclusion. I believe that the reasoning process of Dr. H is flawed on many accounts, and that I can argue a more reasonable case to support my conclusion.
Agreed Facts of The Case
1) Unborn babies are not conscious while in the womb, and do not feel what we would consider pain.
2) Many women wish to exercise their liberty to abort their unborn babies for various reasons, many of which are good hearted.
3) Children with Down syndrome pose an increased challenge that could reduce a mother’s quality of life.
Agreed Fundamental Legal Ethics
1) Killing an innocent human life is wrong in every case; no exceptions.
2) Every person is guaranteed the full right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness in so far as it does not infringe on the rights of another individual.
3) All people are guaranteed equal protection under the law.
Points of Contention
1) An unborn baby in a mother’s womb is not a human being (on the basis of consciousness).
2) A woman should be able to exercise liberty in aborting the unborn baby in her womb.
3) Selectively aborting unborn babies with Down syndrome is not discrimination against disabled persons.
I will now state why I disagree with these three points of contention, while remaining within the agreed facts and ethics:
1) An Unborn Baby In A Woman’s Womb Is Not A Human Being
While there are many different ideas for what constitutes human life, Dr. H employs the condition of consciousness. She believes that in order for a thing to be considered human, it must be conscious of its existence and relation to its environment.
Dr. H goes on to say that since unborn babies are not conscious, they cannot be considered human. This argument fails in two main ways:
The first problem is that consciousness is on a continuum. It is not a binary, “yes” or “no”. The amount of consciousness one exhibits is based on several things, including intelligence, maturity, and state of mind. A 2-year-old child is barely aware of their existence compared to a 30-year-old adult. A drunk person is less aware of their existence than a sober person. If human life is determined by being in a state of consciousness, it would suggest that a 30-year-old is more human than a 2-year-old, or a sober person is more human than a drunk person.
The second problem is that people often fall into states of significantly reduced consciousness, even to the point of being fully unconscious. Is a sleeping person still a person? What if that person were to get hit in the head and was knocked out cold? Would they then cease being human until they are conscious again?
The statement that Dr. H makes is as follows: If a living thing is not conscious, then it is acceptable to end the life of that thing.
By that logic, would it not also be reasonable to kill someone in a coma? Or someone who is drunk? Or mentally impaired?
There is no amendment to the argument that can solve the double standard it creates, so far as I can tell.
But if that definition is not correct, I must offer my own in its place. I would suggest that human life is based on being created by humans. There’s something funny about humans: they never give birth to dogs. They never give birth to elephants (thank God). They only give birth to other humans.
I won’t get into all of the philosophical justification (or we’d be here for a while), but it is a definition that allows for all of human life to be equal, and to prevent potential injustice of things we already agree on. Dr. H and I both think that it would be wrong to kill someone who is temporarily knocked unconscious, but my definition of being human is the only one that is consistent with that idea.
But if we are going to use my definition, then we would also have to say that an unborn baby in the womb is a human life, since it is created by humans and fulfills the requirements of biological life. And I have to ask, what else could it be? People say, “it’s just a blob of tissue”. But it’s growing, responding to its environment, and is exactly the same as we all were at one time. It’s not that an unborn baby has the potential to become human life, but rather that it currently is human life.
2) A Woman Should Be Able To Exercise Liberty In Aborting The Unborn Baby In Her Womb
Dr. H believes that women have a right to choose what happens to their bodies. Absolutely they do, but we also agree that liberty is only acceptable so long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. And if that unborn baby is human, then it has rights to life, liberty, and property just like any other human. Although, in its less developed state, it would not have the capacity to exercise liberty and property. This means all that an unborn baby can have is the right to life.
If a woman were to exercise her right to liberty in a way that infringed upon the right to life of an unborn baby, it would no longer be acceptable for her to do so, according to our agreed upon definition of acceptable exercise of liberty. Therefore, an unborn baby’s right to life must be upheld for proper ethics to be practiced.
3) Selectively Aborting Unborn Babies With Down Syndrome Is Not Discrimination Against Disabled Persons
By this point we can hopefully agree that based on the agreed upon ethics, it is not logical to kill an unborn baby while in the womb. However, what if this unborn baby had Down syndrome?
There are all kinds of flaws that a baby might have, which gets complicated, but I am only addressing the arguments put forth by Dr. H, and she only mentioned the case of Down syndrome, so that’s what I’ll stick to arguing.
Down syndrome is a disease that results in a myriad of potential health issues, and thus a shortened life span. The main issue is mental retardation. Since about 1 in 1000 people have Down syndrome, it is almost certain that everyone has met someone with Down syndrome in their life.
The argument is fairly simple once we’ve dealt with those first two contentions. Basically, if the unborn baby is a human life, then it is given the same right to life as anyone. If someone with Down syndrome cannot be killed outside of the womb, they cannot be killed inside the womb. Location and physical maturity hold no factor in right to life.
If the decision to abort an unborn baby is solely because they are disabled, then it clearly fits the definition of discrimination against disabled persons. The reason Dr. H doesn’t believe it is, is because she believes they are not persons to begin with. But once we agree they are human, we must then agree it is discrimination.
But I want to go beyond that for a second and discuss an appeal to empathy.
I believe that true morality cannot be separated from empathy, and it is from my sincere empathy for people with Down syndrome and their families that my heart has come to believe what my mind already thinks.
In Colorado Springs, I once attended a church that had free lunch for young adults from time to time. I went to the lunch, and there was a young lady who had Down syndrome. She was very happy, sociable, and affectionate to everyone. She hugged me, and me being awkward as heck, just stood there, like, “WHAT??”. Throughout the whole lunch, she had to have a parent supervise her at all times, and tell her to calm down or stop saying hi to everyone while they were in the middle of a separate conversation. But the parents were incredibly nice about it.
After lunch ended, I offered to help clean up, and so did her Dad. While it was just him and I, he mentioned that his daughter can be a bit of a handful since she has Down syndrome. I asked him, “were you frustrated with God when you found out that your child would have Down syndrome?”. He said, “You know, I was at first. But then when I held her in my arms for the first time, I realized none of that mattered. She has been a blessing in our lives and we wouldn’t trade her for anything.”
Down syndrome people exhibit extremely high rates of compassion and empathy compared to the average person. How ironic is it that pro-abortion advocates would choose to attack them as their primary target? And I would have to ask people who believe that Down syndrome people should not exist: would you be willing to tell those parents at the church that their child should have never existed? Can you really look into the eyes of someone with Down syndrome and say that they should have been aborted?
It seems to me that proper ethics, and the heart behind it, is fulfilled through appeals to reason and empathy, and would suggest that unborn babies of all kinds have a right to life, including those with Down syndrome.
“The true measure of a society is in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
An unborn baby developing in the safety of its mother’s womb is very vulnerable, and needs to be treated as such. While there are certainly disturbing potential consequences of a society that chooses to relax its approach to human life, I don’t feel the need to appeal to “slippery slope” arguments. I believe the degradation of the human right to life through the practice of abortion is sufficiently contrary to proper virtue in and of itself to be cause for alarm.
While there may be a good argument in favor of abortion, I have yet to hear it. The general public does not want to be burdened by having to deal with the natural result of sex; a process that either creates human life or degrades it. Academics too quickly forgo proper ethics in favor of progressionist dogma. But I am not interested in following what the general public or a “progressive person” dictates. I am interested in upholding fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property for every human being; regardless of race, gender, class, intelligence, ability, or level of physical maturity.
My hope is that through rational consideration of the ethics we already know to be true, in combination with current research, we can look forward to not only eliminating the practice of abortions through law, but also eliminating the desire for abortions through an understanding and appreciation for the value of human life in all its forms.