The Blog

When A United Nations Expert Says Everything Should Be Done To Avoid The Life Of Children Like Yours

Dear Mr. Ben Achour and other members of the UN Human Rights committee,

If Richard Dawkins' tweet linking a woman's immorality to her refusal to selectively abort for Down syndrome (rightly) created a media frenzy in 2014, then why does your statement during a recent session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) go largely unnoticed?

You said: 'Though it is necessary to help disabled people once they are born, this doesn't mean that we have to accept to allow a fetus suffering with impairment to live.' You added 'We must do everything we can to avoid disabilities.'.

The Chairman of the UNHRC then intervened by reminding all members that the debate is recorded.

The United Nations are founded on the basis of the equal dignity of every human being. The UNHRC has great authority on jurisdictions and law makers around the world. The Committee has the power to judge States parties with regards to their implementation and respect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I struggle to understand why Richard Dawkins' -biased, but otherwise inconsequential- remarks was immediately followed by media outrage and an apology of some sort, while your statement, sofar, remains without consequence.

Seeing the world through the eyes of possibility

My oldest daughter April is an active, outgoing girl. She's our nature child who binge-watches "Lassie" because she is wildly passionate about anything with four legs. Although April uses few words, she's a master communicator.

Hazel is our princess who will cry when one of us gets hurt. She will then tend to our needs with band-aids, hugs and blankets.

Both my daughters have Down syndrome and their younger brother does not. He owes his large personality, or at least part of it, to the fact he's growing up seeing the world through the eyes of possibility.

Imagine. As my children bounce through life, I'm conscious they represent a group whose ranks are quickly shrinking because of the widespread push for prenatal screening and abortion. I know that most women of childbearing age who we encounter have judged my daughters and her cohort, and found their lives to be not worth living.

Knowing that individuals look at them this way hurts, but knowing that a representative of the United Nations -founded on the basis of the equal dignity of every human being-, reinforces these prejudices by promoting selection is horrendous.

Down syndrome: a life worth living

I would like to quote self-advocate John Franklin Stephens who -at a United States congressional testimony last week- said: 'I completely understand that people are pushing for a particular 'final solution', saying that people like me should not exist. That view is deeply prejudiced by an outdated idea of life with Down syndrome.'

It is unacceptable that your statements, reflecting the very ideology of eugenic abortion that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refuses to tolerate, are swept under the human rights carpet.

I would like to remind the other members of UNHRC that their presence and silence are also on record and that speaks for itself.

Women have the inherent right to give birth, unjudged

People with Down syndrome and other disabilities are a naturally occurring part of our humanity. They have always existed in every race, religion and society on this planet.

My children do not live because I failed to abort them. My children live because they are human beings with equal human dignity. They live because I did not wish to partake in a sorting culture and therefore refused my body and pregnancy to be used for the purpose of eugenic abortion.

Abortion is a medical procedure that kills unborn children and, like all medical procedures, carries risks for women. To refer to selective abortion as a means to 'avoid disability' is demeaning to both my rights and those of my children. As a woman I have the inherent right to give birth to my children, unjudged, no matter what their differences or disability.

In a comparable situation of sex-selective abortion of unborn baby-girls, several UN committees have blamed prenatal selection -an extreme form of inequality-, as the root cause of violence against women.

The UN should not push disability-selective abortion as, this too threatens the human rights of women.

Do the right thing

To distantiate the Universal Human Rights treaty from the ideology of eugenic abortion, I expect you and other members of the UNHRC to take appropriate action by:

  • offering an official apology to the millions of people living with a disability around the world.
  • offering an official apology to women stating their right to give birth, unjudged, to children no matter what their disability or difference will be respected.
  • stepping down from further engagements with or, on behalf of, the United Nations.
  • having your place in the committee filled by a person with a disability.

May I suggest to invite one of the many excellent outspoken self-advocates our Down syndrome community has to offer.


Renate Lindeman

Mother of two children with Down syndrome and spokesperson for Saving Downs, Downpride and the Stop Discriminating Down campaign