Below is the National Down Syndrome Congress’ response to comments made by Professor Albert Harris, as reported by several media outlets.
According to a Raleigh News and Observer report, biology professor Albert Harris of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has stated, “In my opinion, the moral thing for older mothers to do is to have amniocentesis, as soon during pregnancy as is safe for the fetus, test whether placental cells have a third chromosome #21, and abort the fetus if it does.”
While Professor Harris qualified his statement as his “opinion,” the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) finds the professor has violated basic academic standards by expressing an opinion based on personal, anecdotal experience in a classroom setting.
Reports suggest that Harris did so to spark discussion and debate. The NDSC would welcome that; however, we find Harris adds nothing to a debate which has been ongoing for sometime. He cites the fact that his opinion is based on the experience of one acquaintance whose life was, according to him, “ruined” by a child with Down syndrome.
Down syndrome impacts people across an extremely wide range; however, it is rare for it to be, in fact, ruinous by any definition. The contrary is more often the case. Far from ruining lives, our families consistently report that their sons, daughters or siblings with Down syndrome enhance their lives and bring them great joy.
We question how any of that can be termed “ruinous.”
We therefore ask Professor Harris to retract his statement. In doing so, we also request that the professor make an appropriate apology to his students, explain clearly that his statement was a personal opinion and has no scientific basis and make every effort to convey to them current, accurate facts regarding Down syndrome.