Monday, February 18, 2008

North Carolina Professor--Abort Babies with Down Syndrome

North Carolina’s The News & Observer wrote this story on University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill biology professor Albert Harris who believes down syndrome babies should be aborted.

“In my opinion, the moral thing for older mothers to do is to have amniocentesis, as soon during pregnancy as is safe for the fetus, test whether placental cells have a third chromosome #21, and abort the fetus if it does. The brain is the last organ to become functional.”
Evidently, the good professor has been making the comment for several of his 35 years of teaching at UNC-CH. For whatever reason, the comment gained some publicity this year.

Maybe it’s because of Lara Frame. She is a senior anthropology and Spanish major who is taking Harris’ Biology 441 class. She also has an 18 year old brother, who happens to have Down syndrome.

"Biology is not an opinion subject," said Frame. "It's a facts-based subject. And though abortion is legal, it's not a fact that you should abort every baby with Down syndrome. If this had been a philosophy class, I wouldn't have said anything."
Frame, who wrote this letter to the editor, makes quite a point. Why is a biology professor making (immoral) philosophical arguments in his biology class? Has Peter Singer started a fan club? Rather, I think, this is further evidence of the strengthening of America’s culture of death.

Like Singer (a tenured professor at Princeton University), Harris is from a reputable school and is allowed to make extreme comments without any correction.

The heart of Professor Harris’ problematic thinking is simply this: how can we qualify what life is worth living? Down syndrome children may lack a certain chromosome that most humans have, but that hardly is evidence that they must die.

If Harris wants to make a biological argument, then he cannot stop with abortion. If Down syndrome children should morally be put to death inside the womb, then they should morally be put to death outside the womb.

But the fact is, putting Down syndrome children to death within the womb (or any other baby for any other reason) is reprehensible and immoral.

Interestingly, Harris doesn’t make a biological argument (at least within the news article). Rather, he relies on a subjective argument—that is ruins families. "I know somebody who had a child like this, and it ruined their life," Harris said. I wonder if we dialed up this family whether they’d have the same opinion. Frankly, every family I’ve ever known with a Down syndrome child, in spite of the difficulties they’ve endured, know they’ve been enriched by some of the most delightful humans that have ever graced our planet.

Me? I’ll take a Down syndrome person over a tenured biology professor any day of the week.

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