There are many arguments given for the permissibility of abortion. Most of them seem to be concerned with the rights of the mother to have control over what happens to her body. I personally find these arguments to be callously cold and inhumane in their thinking towards unborn children. However there are also some arguments that appeal to the rights of the unborn child – the right not to live a life that would not be worth living.
This kind argument came out pretty loud this week with Richard Dawkins’ tweets saying that it would be “immoral” to bring a child into the world if you knew it had Down’s syndrome. I take it that he is not worried about the child being more of a cost than a benefit to society – I think he is worried about the suffering the child is expected to go through if it is allowed to be born and grow up. Of course, this argument isn’t limited to concerns about children with Down’s syndrome but extends to other diseases, as well as socio-economic conditions that would mean the parent is unable to provide what we might consider an adequate life for the child.
I just think this is the most absurd argument; it surely cannot stand up to scrutiny. Here’s what I don’t understand. We’re saying that it would be cruel to bring into the world a child whose life would be so full of suffering that it wouldn’t be worth living, right? Have we ever thought of asking the children what they want? Well of course, the children we’re talking about can’t speak; they’re fetuses. But we can speak to the millions of people who have been born with diseases, or born into poverty, and have grown up into adults. Here’s what’s so remarkable: there are millions of these people whose lives pro-abortionists say would are not worth living, and yet for some reason, the overwhelming majority of them choose to continue to live. Don’t you think that’s noteworthy? I mean, if their lives really were so much more painful than they were pleasurable that they would have been better off not to have been born, wouldn’t they just go ahead and kill themselves? But they generally don’t kill themselves, do they? In fact many of them, particularly those born into poverty, go to extreme lengths just to survive. The fact that so many people born in life’s unfair circumstances wind up living lives of crime is so often given as a reason why they shouldn’t have been born. But really I see it as a testimony to just how desperately these people wish to continue living. They will do almost anything, it seems, to stay alive.
Of course, you will probably say that this is just the result of natural instinct: it is incredibly unnatural for a person to end their own life – they generally have to be experiencing an incredible amount of suffering for them to consider it better that they should die. And I would say… Ah, yes; precisely. Maybe that should make you reconsider how lightly you are willing to end someone’s life. Let’s not forget – it’s very, very easy to kill oneself. There’s nothing physically hard about it. What makes it so rare is that people almost never want to die. It’s simple logic: If people actually didn’t consider their own lives worth living, they would kill themselves. And thus, given the enormous sample size of empirical evidence showing that people born in disadvantaged circumstances usually choose to continue living, the rational thing to do is to assume that an unborn child with Down’s syndrome will most likely prefer to live.
Doesn’t it seem tremendously paternalistic to decide, before someone has the capacity to choose for themselves, whether someone’s life is worth living? If what you’re really concerned about is the quality of life for the unborn, why not let the child be born, and then if they decide that their life isn’t worth living, let them kill themselves? How presumptuous, how autocratic, that we would think we know better than someone whether their own life has enough joy that it would be worth continuing, given that whenever we actually give a fetus in a disadvantaged position the chance to live, they almost always take it, holding on to it like nothing else! It is unthinkable to me that our assumption would be that they wouldn’t want to live when everything we know about real life tells us the exact opposite.
Almost everybody who’s ever been born with Down’s syndrome, or with difficult economic circumstances, has chosen to keep living. How about we give them a chance to make that choice.