Otago University Bioethics Director must resign following discriminatory paper on Down syndrome
Saving Downs demands the resignation of Otago University’s Director of Bioethics following the publishing last week of a highly offensive and discriminatory paper about prenatal testing for Down syndrome.
Professor Jones acknowledges that “prenatal testing may result in fewer people with Down syndrome” and then attempts to dismiss any ethical concerns over such an outcome. Such a possibility is extremely problematic as it devalues the lives of people with Down syndrome by reducing their birth prevalence. It is in direct conflict with basic principles of human rights and dignity.
Professor Jones states in his paper:
“First, we value an ethic that stresses the importance of ‘doing the most good’. On these grounds we accept that in some cases, the perceived disadvantages resulting from a Down syndrome pregnancy (to child and family) may outweigh the perceived good from the child’s life.”
He is reported here as saying:
“For some families, raising a child with Down syndrome will be immensely difficult, and it is for this reason that we allow the option of termination.”
These statements are false. Children with Down syndrome live good lives and are loved and valued members of their families. Concepts that they are a “disadvantage” or “immensely difficult” are extreme forms of discrimination that reinforce negative stereotypes towards them. It exposes them to harmful attitudes, bigotry and prejudice. Saving Downs’s spokesman Mike Sullivan said that “There is no place for such attitudes in our society”.
Professor Jones has an established track record of discriminatory language. In this paper on infanticide of newborns with Down syndrome there are offensive quotes such as “suffering from Down syndrome”, “infants with deformities”, and “parents struggling with deformed children”.
Mr Sullivan said that “such attitudes are extremely hurtful and false. People with Down syndrome are not deformities and they are not sufferers. Such concepts are harmful, discriminatory, ablest and eugenic”. Mr Sullivan calls for Professor Jones immediate resignation, noting that “He has demonstrated an extremely discriminatory view towards people with Down syndrome. Such attitudes are not welcome in our community and are incompatible with a leading academic role relating to ethical conduct”.
In conclusion Mr Sullivan said that “People with Down syndrome must be accorded the full respect and acknowledgement of human rights that are afforded to other New Zealanders”.