Wednesday 7 January 2009

Autistic babies should not be killed. Period.

Under the headline “Autism test ‘could hit maths skills’” the BBC reports today that pre-natal testing for autism and the abortion of babies thought to be affected may not be far off.
In an interesting article, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (pictured), the director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, says that mathematical excellence and autism may be linked. He writes:

“ … assuming such a test is developed, we would be wise to think ahead as to how such a test would be used. If it was used to 'prevent' autism, with doctors advising mothers to consider termination of the pregnancy if their baby tested 'positive', what else would be lost in reducing the number of children born with autism? Would we also reduce the number of future great mathematicians, for example? … Caution is needed before scientists embrace prenatal testing so that we do not inadvertently repeat the history of eugenics or inadvertently 'cure' not just autism but the associated talents that are not in need of treatment.”

It’s not clear what Professor Simon Baron-Cohen means in his final sentence above. Is he sounding a warning against the eugenic killing of the disabled? Or is he concerned principally, or solely, as the BBC’s introductory paragraphs put it, that “caution is needed to ensure associated talents, like numerical abilities, are not lost if the test or a "cure" become available”? Or is Professor Baron-Cohen unaware that we already have repeated the history of eugenics – both in Britain and elsewhere in the world – in our determined pursuit of the extermination of the disabled (as Alison Davis who has spina bifida and who is the leader of No Less Human, makes abundantly clear in her paper “A disabled person’s perspective on eugenic abortion”)?

The killing of disabled babies is infinitely more significant than any loss of human skills and talents. Whilst the Professor’s article is interesting and thought-provoking, the BBC’s headline provides a chilling reminder of modern Britain – in which countless human beings are killed as though they’re rubbish, simply because they’re disabled, and people in the media worry about the possible loss of maths skills. Autistic babies should not be killed. Period.