I suppose it is not surprising that Richard Dawkins, the celebrated biologist and likely most recognized atheist on the planet, regards it as immoral to bring children with Down Syndrome into the world. Atheists regularly argue that you do not need God in order to have morals. Well, no, I suppose you do not. Even still, atheists, not being grounded in the intrinsic dignity of humans (because, from an atheist perspective, what does dignity, much less intrinsic dignity, even mean?), tend to view things on more practical terms. So, utilitarianism, the idea that what is moral is what achieves the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, seems reasonable. It certainly seems more reasonable than any morality that relies on something so vague and indescribable as intrinsic dignity.
From an atheist perspective, humans have no claim on being exceptional over other living beings, and humans with disabilities certainly have less of a claim. Why should we regard a mentally disabled human as possessing more dignity than a high functioning ape? Because the disabled human is human? What, precisely, is it about being human that allows one to claim a dignity greater than that of other living beings? Is that not speciesism, the claim, based purely on the arrogance or faith claims of humans, that humans possess greater dignity than other living beings?
Advocates of this sort of thinking think they are being reasonable, even scientific. They are not basing their claims, after all, on human arrogance or the so-called revelations of a god created by humans to justify humans’ exploitation of the earth and animals. No, there simply is nothing in scientific terms or rational terms that justifies the claim that humans are exceptional, that humans possess a dignity greater than other living beings. Of course, this does not work in practice. Try it for a few days. Try treating a cockroach crawling on your floor the same way most people would treat an infant doing the same. In short order, your home will be over run with cockroaches. Try treating a baby crawling along your floor the same way most people would treat a cockroach. In short order you will go mad. If our atheistic scientists cannot recognize the intrinsic dignity of the human person, our psyches usually can.
It is very easy to say, as Dawkins does, that you should just kill this one and try for another. It is much harder when you are the one doing the killing. Most people are not up for killing other people. That is one reason, I am sure, why the number of abortionists in this country is declining rapidly. Older abortionists, the ones who could pretend they were not killing people because in utero photography and ultrasound technology had not advanced so far, are retiring or dying off. Few younger doctors are interested in replacing them. Knowing what we now know about human life and development (really, what we always knew, but before our pictures would no longer allow us to pretend otherwise), not many people who go into a profession for the purpose of healing others are much interested in regularly killing others.
It is interesting that Dawkins admits that he does not know anyone with Down Syndrome. Of course, in Europe, it is getting more and more difficult to meet people with Down Syndrome because the practice in many European countries is to test for Down Syndrome in utero and abort the child if the test comes back positive. In England, Dawkins’ home country, 90% of unborn children diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted.
Finally, it is not difficult to make the jump from getting rid of disabled people to getting rid of bothersome people, such as the elderly, those who suffer severe mental illness or decline, or the criminal or homeless. Once we reduce the dignity of the human person to nothing more than equal to the dignity of other living beings, it is not a large jump to reducing further the dignity of humans who are perceived to be a drain on society or a danger to society. Of course, “danger to society,” in our increasingly politically and socially divided culture, could mean those who think differently than the elites, or those in power. As others have said before, if you think the Holocaust, the Killing Fields, or the Great Leap Forward could not happen here, you are not paying attention. For some groups of people, it already is.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.