Poor Professor Dawkins has apparently caused a furore on twitter after tweeting, to a woman who said that she would face a serious ethical dilemma if she found she was pregnant with a baby who had Down's Syndrome, that she should abort it. He seems suprised by this. His apology, as reported by the Guardian, seems to be an apology for causing a riot rather than for what he actually said, claiming that those who objected did so from an emotional point of view, that twitter did not give him enough space to put his whole argument across and that because of this he left himself vulnerable to wilful misinterpretation.
However, the thing that really bugs me about this is that Dawkins claims that his response is totally down to logic. According to the Guardian, he wrote: "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's 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 take issue with this, and in fact, I am frequently irritated by people who claim that anyone who disagrees with them is arguing emotionally, and that they themselves are basing their argument purely on logic.
- If your morality is based, as Professor Dawkins' is, on a desire to increase happiness and reduce suffering you should presumably never say anything that might offend anyone because offense generates suffering, even if this is a subjective response.
- If you believe that this life is all there is, that there is no life after or other than this one, then the abortion of an unborn child would presumably decrease the sum total of happiness, seeing that without life there cannot be happiness.
- If your aim is to increase the sum total of happiness rather than the happiness of the individual, and given the amount of great joy which those families express regarding their children with Down's Syndrome (and indeed their children without Down's) then presumably the termination of a child would not increase happiness and the reduction in suffering (given the absence of the child and the effects on the family) could well outweigh the non-increase in happiness.
- Given that people who are objectively suffering can experience happiness, and that people who are happy can suffer, suffering and happiness are not necessarily opposed and therefore the aims to decrease the former and increase the latter may, in fact, be conflicting.
- By extension of his argument that it is immoral to maintain life where there is suffering, all those who suffer from any illness, or indeed with the potential to suffer from any illness, however short or long term, should be exterminated because their existence may lead to their own suffering or the suffering of others.
Given the logical outcome of his moral framework, perhaps it is time to reconsider the starting point. If the outcome is outrageous and not what he intends at all, perhaps that is because some of his reasoning is based on an emotional understanding of happiness and suffering.