Down Syndrome and happiness

I gather that Richard Dawkins is in favour of putting down Down Syndrome children and I don’t mean like the way he puts down the pope. Something to do with them not being happy enough and not adding enough to the world’s net bank of happiness.

It made me recall seeing Geoffrey Rush in Ionesco’s Exit the King at the Malthouse in 2007. Not long before I’d been to see Tim Robbin’s production of 1984, the star act of the 2006 Melbourne Festival. I made the mistake of going to a weekday matinee which meant we were surrounded by highschool boys who had no idea how to respond to the violence of the play. There were horrific lines they laughed at out of sheer adolescent embarrassment. So imagine how my heart sank when I realised, that in going to see Exit the King, I’d booked into another matinee and this time there was a row of Down Syndrome teenagers right behind us. Where’s Richard Dawkins and his exterminator gun when you need him?

Luckily not about at the time, as it turned out. The kids were not only impeccably behaved, thus adding to my net happiness, but were completely entranced by the spectacle, thus adding to their own net happiness as well. I’m darn sure it would have added quite a lot to Rush’s as well, if he could have seen how he’d won these kids over just as much as he won the rest of us. I can’t imagine any scene more at odd with Dawkins’ view that

I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.

I’ve never read any of Dawkins’ science books, but one hopes they display more clarity and rigour than his forays into ethics, a field he would best leave to others.

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