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My child, Peter Singer and the rush to abort babies with Down's syndrome

Joanne Pasquale, whose son has Down's syndrome, explains why she believes academics such as Peter Singer are stopping the world from recognising the human rights owed to all people

New figures have revealed the UK saw a 50 per cent increase in terminations for Down's syndrome over the past decade. The revised abortion statistics which were released this week show there were 655 abortions for Down's syndrome in 2017. That's up from 437 in 2007.

The figures sadden me as the decision to terminate is often made without a proper understanding of what life is actually like for a person with Down’s syndrome.

The Reality

We found out in early pregnancy that there was a high chance our son would be born with Down's syndrome. I was then pushed in to having a CVS which confirmed this to be the case. It was then assumed I would terminate the pregnancy - every medical professional I saw made the same assumption. Not one person at that stage spoke to me about what Down's syndrome actually meant.

Despite the warnings, I went ahead and gave birth to my son Jamie. And I don't regret it for one moment. 

We're now 18 years on from those conversations in the hospital and Jamie is happy, healthy and full of life. Last year he completed a Spartan race - a 5k course full of tough obstacles. He's also swum in the Asian Special Olympics and trains three times a week. Oh, and he plays the drums and the guitar. Surely no one would suggest Jamie is not worthy of life? You might think that. But you'd be wrong.

Peter Singer, professor of moral philosophy at Princeton University, frequently calls into question the value of keeping babies born with Down’s syndrome.

Singer's Big Conversation

Having listened to the recent debate between ‘moral philosopher’ Peter Singer and Andy Bannister as part of The Big Conversation on Unbelievable? I cannot sit back and let Professor Singer's opinions go unchallenged.

Theologian Andy Bannister debated with Singer, among other things, Singer's view that terminating a child because it has been found to have Down’s syndrome was okay.

Singer said: "I think I attract opposition from people who try to maintain that life with disabilities is just as good and we should not, as they say, discriminate against people with disabilities. But obviously, most people do discriminate and I think that's a justifiable form of discrimination."

“I think it’s a defensible decision...because I think it’s reasonable to prefer to have a child without Down's syndrome than one with Down's syndrome.”

People respect Singer’s opinion, because he is a University Professor. But his views fly in the face of the progress the world has made around diversity and inclusion.

Unjustified Discrimination

People with Down's syndrome have been with us for a very long time. They can be found all over the world and in every class of society. Peter Singer says "it’s reasonable to prefer to have a child without Down's syndrome than one with Down's syndrome.” Just imagine if we substituted the words “without Down's syndrome” for “who wasn’t Jewish” or “who wasn’t homosexual”? There would quite rightly be complete and utter outrage. So why is it that specifically targeting this minority - those who carry an extra chromosome - is okay?

Singer defends his position by suggesting people will suffer. But studies tell us that people with Down's syndrome are actually very happy with their lives. You do not and cannot ‘suffer’ from Down's syndrome. Of course, people with Down's syndrome may be prevalent to certain conditions that in their life may cause them pain. But isn't the same true of everyone?

During the debate, Justin Brierley asked Singer about the term ‘personhood’. Singer has used this term in the past, preferring it to describing someone as 'human'. In my view, emotion, spirituality, personality and physicality makes us human. And each person with Down's syndrome has emotions, spirituality, personality and a physical body. Apparently this isn’t proof enough of 'humanness' for our learned friend.

The Utilitarian Fallacy

The dictionary definition of 'Utilitarianism' - the doctrine that Singer holds to - is that actions are right if they benefit the majority. Singer interprets this in a way which enables him to advocate for the destruction of minorities. To say this is blatantly wrong and immoral would be an understatement.   

Interestingly enough research on the psychological and neurobiological processes underlying moral judgement throws some new light on to those who hold such utilitarian views. An illustrious team led by the University of Iowa's Michael Koenigs and the University of Southern California’s, Antonio Damasio explored the tendency of certain brain-damaged patients to favour utilitarian moral judgments. They found that those who like to be utilitarian, may themselves be suffering from brain damage. 

Make no mistake: some people want to eradicate people like my son from this earth. Singer isn't the only person who holds views which will contribute to this end goal. The government in Denmark have said they want the country to be Down's syndrome free by 2020.

Going back to those hospital appointments, is it any wonder that I was advised to abort my son? As long as people like Peter Singer are spreading their abhorrent views, we will not make progress on this issue. 

No Mistakes

It's time to assert the human rights of people with Down's syndrome. Look around. Our children, young people and adults are active members of the community. They are working, on television, the catwalks, the radio, in magazines, on billboards and shock horror, even speaking about their rights at the UN.

I don’t want Jamie to grow up in a world where he is regarded as a mistake. Or something that should have been detected and gotten rid of. Something that is a burden. I don’t want him to feel that he isn’t expected to achieve much, that he can’t contribute to society.

It is time the world started seeing Down's syndrome for what it really is.

Watch Peter Singer's debate with Andy Bannister

Joanne Pasquale is a Down's syndrome advocate and the author of A Positive Result

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