February 20, 2024

New York Times tackles the ethics of aborting Down syndrome kids

The New York Times is widely regarded as the most authoritative news source in the United States. How about ethical advice from its in-house ethicist, Kwame Anthony Appiah, a leading philosopher who is also president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters? Not so much.

“Name Withheld” asked Appiah if genetic testing for Down syndrome and possibly to abort the child would constitute eugenics. A Down syndrome child might be a lot of work and might cost a lot of money. No, of course not, said Appiah. Eugenics is a population-level policy with state backing. You would clearly not be a eugenicist.

In fact, most people think the way you do: “your sentiments would seem to ally you with the majority, going by the choices people make: It has been estimated that about two out of three fetuses with prenatally diagnosed Down syndrome are aborted in the United States. Many families faced with this choice do what you’re considering.”

However, Appiah also advised Name Withheld to investigate the lived reality of people with Down syndrome. Most of them are happy and satisfied. “It isn’t unreasonable to worry about having a child who can’t have a long and rewarding life. But that’s simply not true of most people with Down syndrome. Parents of children with Down syndrome have written at length, and often hearteningly, about their experiences.”

Appiah seems to be making a two-way bet. On the one hand, people with Down syndrome can live happy and fulfilling lives. On the other hand, it’s OK to abort them.