UNC-CH Professor Says Abort Down Syndrome Babies
Special Report - February 20, 2008
Earlier this month, a biology professor at UNC-Chapel Hill told students in his embryology class that aborting unborn children with Down Syndrome was the moral thing to do. According to the Associated Press (AP), Professor Albert Harris wrote in his lecture notes: “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.”
Down Syndrome generally involves physical and cognitive disabilities that can range from mild/moderate to severe. Many people with mild or moderate disabilities are able to find and maintain employment. The severe cases result in profound mental retardation. There is currently no way to determine how severe a case of Down Syndrome will be through ultrasound or other prenatal screening methods.
Harris’ comments angered some of his students. The AP notes that Lara Frame, one of his students, has a brother with Down Syndrome. Frame said that she became “physically ill” at Harris’ comments. Frame’s revulsion points to a deeper truththe value of human life is placed in the fact that it is human life. Ironically, this is a fact that Harris seems to acknowledge, even if he doesn’t believe it. In an interview with the News and Observer, Harris said, “If our child had been born with Down Syndrome as we had expected, we would have cherished her.” Sarah Truluck of the Duke Campus group Best Buddies, which pairs up students with the mentally disabled in the community, is quoted by the AP, saying that Harris’ comments were “shocking.” She also said that she would “continue to fight the stereotype that people with disabilities are less than human, and encourage others to do the same.”
Matthew Lytle, Director of Research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council, commented: "Harris’ remarks fall into a camp of thought where the value placed on human life depends on what that life is able to do. This 'functionalist' view states that unless an organism can perform certain cognitive tasks, the organism should not be considered a person. Since unborn children or the mentally challenged cannot be observed to perform these arbitrarily chosen cognitive tasks, they are not considered 'persons.' According to this view, killing an unborn child or someone who is mentally disabled is not murder, nor is it necessarily morally problematic.
"Another factor involved in such a view is the argument that such a handicapped existence would be a burden not only to the handicapped, but also to those who would have to care for him or her. According to this argument, the value of a human life can be measured in terms of the greatest good for the greatest number.
"This line of thinking is problematic, since many people who care for people with Down Syndrome do not view their care as a burden, as Frame’s experience with her brother demonstrates. Human life is not valuable because it has certain abilities or because it is wanted. Human life is valuable because it is human."
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.