Press release – Over 2,700 people with Down’s syndrome and their families call for Penguin Random House to ditch Dawkins over discriminatory remarks on Down’s syndrome

May 29, 2021 | Press releases

Press release for immediate release 

Over 2,700 people with Down’s syndrome and their families call for Penguin Random House to ditch Dawkins over discriminatory remarks on Down’s syndrome


2,787 people with Down’s syndrome and their families have signed an open letter to Markus Dohle, Chief Executive Officer, Penguin Random House, calling on the publisher to immediately end their business relationship with Richard Dawkins, after he told RTE radio host Brendan O’Connor that it is “wise and sensible” to abort babies who have Down’s syndrome, or are deaf or blind, to “increase the amount of happiness in the world”.

O’Connor, who has a child with Down’s syndrome, said: “You are speaking to someone who did bring someone like that into the world”. He went on: “I would accept that fact and I wouldn’t judge anyone’s choice about that, but why is it immoral not to abort it? […] How do you know that it increases the amount of suffering in the world to bring in a child with Down’s Syndrome?”

Dawkins responded that he “…didn’t know it for certain. It seems to me to be plausible that… if a child has any kind of disability then you probably would increase the amount of happiness in the world more by having another child instead”.

Dawkins even admitted he did not ‘intimately’ know anyone with Down’s syndrome, and denied that he had any “direct evidence” to support his statement.

Dawkins also added that he would screen other people with disabilities out: “I think deafness, blindness…when you have the choice […] I think it would be wise and sensible to abort a child which had a serious disability”.

There were 3,183 disability abortions across England and Wales in 2019, with 656 of those occurring following a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. 

However, the figures are likely to be much higher. In a 2013 review on disability-selective abortions, it was revealed 886 babies were aborted for Down’s syndrome in England and Wales in 2010, but only 482 of these were reported in official Department of Health records. The underreporting was confirmed in 2014 in a Department of Health review.

There has also been an increase in the number of abortions of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down’s syndrome since the introduction of new prenatal screening tests. Figures published in 2019  show that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome in the UK has dropped by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced the new non-invasive prenatal tests.

Abortion is available up to birth for unborn children found to have disabilities, a clause that has been described as discriminatory. Heidi Crowter, a 25-year-old woman from Coventry who has Down’s syndrome, together with Máire Lea-Wilson from Brentford, West London, whose twenty-three-month-old son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, are challenging the UK Government over a disability clause in the current law. This landmark case will be heard by the High Court on 6 July.

Sarah Costerton, whose daughter Beth (8) has Down’s Syndrome said:

“I have three daughters who are all equal before the law and all have the same potential to be a part of suffering and happiness. Professor Dawkins has once again insulted people like my daughter Beth simply for having Down’s syndrome, by insisting that people like her create a negative effect on society. He has no right to say that and he never seems to learn when it’s better to say nothing. Perhaps he thinks the world should be set up differently, however he has to accept that as it is, everyone is entitled to the right to exist and the right to freedom from discrimination. His publishers have to acknowledge those rights even if he doesn’t.

Beth is a joy, and I shouldn’t need to prove her worth to anyone, she is just an eight year-old kid with a big heart and a joyous smile.”

Lynn Murray, whose daughter Rachel (21) has Down’s syndrome said: 

“By saying what he has about people with Down’s syndrome, Richard Dawkins is offending a whole social group in one fell swoop, perpetuating old stereotypes. His opinions by his own admission are uninformed.

My daughter has Down’s syndrome, she is 21 now and it’s been a privilege to see the positive effect she has had on so many people over the years. She has enriched lives. 

He upset myself and many other people in 2014 when he said it was ‘immoral’ to give birth to a child with Down’s syndrome. Years later, when he has had much time to consider his opinions, he still persists with his discriminatory, inflammatory narrative, declaring that a specific group of people, just by their very existence make the world a worse place. Down’s syndrome isn’t a tragedy. Richard Dawkins has no right and no mandate to say otherwise. His publishers should stand with people with Down’s syndrome, uphold their own equality policies, and cut ties with the Professor whose uninformed opinions about Down’s syndrome are also out of sync with today’s public standards of equality and diversity.”


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