An Ethical Dilemma

by | 24 Aug 2014

There’s no doubt that medical advances in the field of fertility have made many women’s dreams come true. But with it come huge ethical dilemmas. This month the condition of Down Syndrome has hit the headlines on more than one occasion. It serves to show what complex times we’re living in when it comes to giving birth to babies.

First there was the story of an Australian couple who had twins from a surrogate in Thailand. They left the country with the healthy baby girl and left the Down Syndrome baby boy behind. When the story first emerged, press reports said that the couple claimed that they had no idea two babies had been born. My instant reaction was this had to be rubbish because I don’t believe that any couple who have been to these sorts of lengths to create a family wouldn’t know that their surrogate was carrying twins. What has subsequently emerged is an even more muddled and murky story. If you’ve got a strong stomach, watch the interview with the couple involved on the Australian TV show 60 minutes.

Then this week the scientist, Richard Dawkins, added to the Down Syndrome debate when he tweeted that it would be immoral to carry on a pregnancy if the mother knew the foetus had the condition. The reaction towards his comments was vitriolic as you might imagine. In a longer defence of his 140 characters he wrote on his website:

“If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down’s baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.”

Medical science has given us the chance to create a baby in another woman’s womb and to test to see whether that foetus has an extra copy of Chromosome 21, the indicator of Down’s. But are these choices always a good thing? Should we just accept the babies we’re given and not given? That’s the ethical dilemma.


  1. Joanna

    tough!! I want to believe that every child is a blessing — and Down’s children, in particular, can be warm, loyal, and full of humour. Autism strikes me as a much worse diagnosis, even though some autistic people function at a high level. But strong, resilient people I know with children with Down’s say flat out that if they had it to do over again, they wouldn’t — because of the constant worry, as well as the impact on their other children. And as a mother, I know that it is an enormous joy to see your child gain increasing independence. I believe in making lemonade out of lemons, and in seeing through any responsibility you take on — If you bring a Down’s child into the world, it’s your job to love and cherish that child, celebrate the beauty of his/her soul, nurture as much independence and joie de vivre as you can — and perhaps, you will find joy and satisfaction as a by-product of seeing that responsibility through. But I would not judge anyone who opted to terminate any more than I would judge someone who opted to reverse, rather than accept childlessness by seeking fertility treatment or adoption.

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      I agree! Although I think one of the really difficult things about the Australian case is that one of the things the couple claim is that they initially wanted a termination of the down syndrome baby but the surrogate disagreed. In cases like this who should have the choice and who be should be seeing through the responsibility? It’s such a sad story although at least the publicity and fundraising that’s happened subsequently means that this baby will now be cared for whatever happens (hopefully).

  2. ladyloveandbabydust

    I think there are so so many ethical dilemmas when going through infertility treatments and intentional family building. I believe strongly in the ability to chose the future you want as long as it causes no harm to yourself and others. That can be taken many ways, ultimately it’s your decision alone to make for your family.

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      You’re absolutely right of course. I suppose the unknown thing though is how much people do think through the causes of harm to themselves and others and whether society needs more measures in place to make sure they do. The provision of counselling around fertility treatment in the UK, for example, is pretty rubbish which is something I really think needs to change.

      • ladyloveandbabydust

        Here too. We don’t get counseling on our fertility choices, it’s a ask and be told kind of culture here. I think that you should have to see a counselor to go forward with such treatments and controversial procedures such as those.