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Posted by on Mar 7, 2013 in Bioethics, Debate, Ethics, In the news | 186 comments

Down syndrome, disability, academic freedom

Activists who want to convince policy makers and the general public that Down syndrome is not (or should not be regarded as) a disability have a very long argument ahead of them. Most of us have encountered Down syndrome sufferers (perhaps a range of them with various levels of severity to their conditions). We have the evidence of our own eyes as to the way it can restrict those people’s capacities and impinge on others such as family and carers. It is an extraordinary claim that what we have seen ought not be regarded as disabling in any way. For most people, such a claim will require rather extraordinary evidence.

Now, there’s doubtless another side to the story. I’ve seen it argued that Down syndrome sufferers are as subjectively happy as others, that their presence in our society is of special value in certain ways, and so on. Very well, let that side of the story be put. I’m not writing this post to judge its credibility one way or another.

Very well, but it gets out of hand when we see calls for an academic to resign for assuming/and or defending the mainstream view that Down syndrome is a disability, something that you can suffer from (so it makes sense to talk, as I did above, about “Down syndrome sufferers”), and so on.

These sorts of calls for resignations over what someone said are very often just contemptible political stunts. It is even more contemptible, and even more a stunt when the person at the receiving end is an academic speaking from well within their proper disciplinary role. In such a case, the person making the call for resignation is not only trying to stir up a witch hunt – it is done in a way that shows no regard for the important concept of academic freedom.

Edit: Udo Schuklenk has now also spoken up about this.