Down’s syndrome and the threat of eugenics | Letters

Letters: Sally Phillips’ programme offers a timely reminder of the dangers of embarking on a determinist view of society and the risk that selective breeding is acceptable

Neither in Sally Phillips’ film, A World Without Down’s Syndrome, nor in your review by Julia Raeside (Last night’s TV: A documentary straight from the heart – and that’s the problem, 6 October) was there any reference to “eugenics”. Yet possibly still within living memory proponents of eugenics in America (and elsewhere) were advocating selective breeding to determine the future of society. It is worth noting that such ideas were grounded in the work of Francis Galton, who was a powerful influence on Cyril Burt, who in turn later developed the 11-plus exams. (His influence might be resurrected in the tests used to determine who is most fit for the new grammar schools we’re promised.)

Sally Phillips’ programme does, therefore, offer a timely reminder of the dangers of embarking on a determinist view of society and the risk that selective breeding is acceptable. As Phillips reported, there is a lot of pressure to avoid a potential “burden” as an outcome of the wrong sort of foetus. In America the eugenicists gathered data purporting to show which sectors of society were more (or less) fit for the future. Favoured solutions proposed to avoid a future populated by those deemed to be “unfit” for society included restrictions on immigration and enforced sterilisation. There is much in the history of that movement to warn us of the dangers of a determinist future. It is, therefore, right to have the questions raised: what kind of society do we want; and how kind do we want society to be?
Dr Simon Gibbs
Reader in educational psychology, University of Newcastle

• Hadley Freeman, in her opinion piece on A World Without Down’s Syndrome, writes that it is genuinely shocking that BBC 2 decided to screen such a blatantly anti-choice message (Sorry, Sally Phillips, but a woman should be able to know if her unborn baby has Down’s syndrome,, 6 October). Is she advocating censorship? In showing the joy her son with Down’s syndrome brings to her family, Sally Phillips is trying to counter negative headlines and arguments. She is not anti-choice. She wants people to have better information. We mothers who have or have had sons or daughters with Down’s syndrome should not be impeded from saying they enrich our families and lead valuable lives. It is important to have a debate about the kind of society we want to live in.
Hazel Morgan


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sorry, Sally Phillips, but a woman should be able to know if her unborn baby has Down’s syndrome | Hadley Freeman
A woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy is non-negotiable. Even if Phillips – someone I’ve long-admired – doesn’t like their reasons

Hadley Freeman

06, Oct, 2016 @4:02 PM

Article image
Sally Phillips’s film on Down’s is ‘unhelpful’ for families, warns antenatal specialist
BBC documentary ‘could make pregnancy dilemma more difficult’, warns head of parents’ support group

Tracy McVeigh

01, Oct, 2016 @11:05 PM

Article image
Living with Down’s syndrome: ‘He’s not a list of characteristics. He’s my son’
Most women whose babies are diagnosed with Down’s syndrome end the pregnancy. But with a more accurate test on the horizon, a group of parents want to change perceptions

Olivia Gordon

17, Oct, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
NHS to offer safer Down's syndrome test to pregnant women
Non-invasive prenatal test allows screening without risk of miscarriage but critics fear it could lead to an increase in terminations

Sarah Boseley Health editor

28, Oct, 2016 @11:01 PM

Article image
Down's syndrome test could see condition disappear, C of E warns
Church says new NHS test could lead to more terminations and fewer people born with condition

Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent

19, Jan, 2018 @2:28 PM

Article image
Clive James: ‘I am continually reminded of what a misery guts I have been’
When I was young, I rarely demonstrated any subtlety at all

Clive James

22, Oct, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
A World Without Down’s Syndrome? review – straight from the heart, and that’s the problem
Actor Sally Phillips sets out to explore the pros and cons of the new NHS test but, as the mother of a child who has the condition, she is impassioned rather than impartial

Julia Raeside

06, Oct, 2016 @6:20 AM

Article image
Woman with Down’s syndrome takes Sajid Javid to court over abortion law
Heidi Crowter alongside Máire Lea-Wilson and her son Aidan argue the 1967 act is discriminatory

Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

06, Jul, 2021 @1:08 PM

Article image
Sally Phillips: Do we really want a world without Down’s syndrome?
A new prenatal test could eradicate Down’s syndrome. Actress Sally Phillips, who has a child with the condition, explains why that would make the world a poorer place

Viv Groskop

01, Oct, 2016 @4:59 AM

Article image
A woman’s right to abort a foetus with Down’s syndrome | Letters
Letters: Every baby should be wanted, and forcing a woman to carry an unwanted foetus to term is hardly the best start, says Ruth Brandon

28, Nov, 2022 @5:40 PM