For the past few years, I’ve been telling BreakPoint readers about our
culture’s undeclared war on people with Down syndrome. Earlier this year, the
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that all
pregnant women, regardless of age, undergo amniocentesis. Obviously that’s to
put them under increasing pressure to abort the child if a genetic defect is
I thought that I heard every possible argument for and against this barbarism,
but I was wrong. Apparently, in addition to asking themselves “what would Jesus
do?” women should ask themselves “what would Darwin advise?”
But Dr. Frank Boehm of Vanderbilt Medical Center has doubts about doctors’ ability to adequately counsel patients” about having a child with Down syndrome. Properly counseling patients requires painting a balanced picture of life with such a child. Boehm points out that while there are “considerable challenges . . . there are also many positive [aspects] as well.” Boehm cites his own experience with his grandson, who has Down syndrome.
Through his grandson, Boehm has come to appreciate the often “unappreciated” “richness” in these children’s lives. He sees how their parents feel that their child offers “love, affection, happiness, laughter and joy” as well as teaching “compassion and acceptance.”
Boehm’s position is a welcome addition to the debate over the treatment of children with Down syndrome. But part of Boehm’s argument has me scratching my head. He ended his piece by saying that not telling patients about these “positive aspects of life” would constitute a failure to “understand the evolutionary process.”
I don’t get it. What does evolutionary theory have to tell us about the “positive aspects” of genetic defects? More importantly, what does it tell us about the human capacity for altruism and compassion—the very things Dr. Boehm is advocating? The answer is: nothing.
Dr. Boehm is a classic example of muddled thinking.
Darwin insisted that natural selection would “rigidly destroy” any variation—such as Down syndrome—that would hurt its possessor “in the struggle for life.” As much as we love kids with Down syndrome, it’s impossible to imagine how Down syndrome helps people in “the struggle for life.” Quite the contrary—it’s a variation that, if Darwin were right, should have been “rigidly destroyed” a long time ago.
And clearly evolutionary theory can’t explain the compassion and love that parents shower on their Down syndrome children. If evolutionary theory is right, then the time, resources and energy it takes to raise a child with special needs could be put to better uses—such as raising children who are more likely to strengthen the species.
The late philosopher David Stove, who was an atheist, called Darwinian explanations for altruism and compassion “confused” and a “slander” against man. They miss the obvious fact that man “is sharply distinguished from all other animals by being in fact hopelessly addicted to altruism.”
The “addiction” that Stove talked about is not the product of evolution. It is the
product of being made in the image of God.