Friday, February 22, 2008

Basically the antithesis of my post from yesterday

A UNC biology professor has sparked controversy after telling his embryology class last week that fetuses with Down syndrome should be aborted.

During a lecture, Albert Harris said: "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 number 21, and abort the fetus if it does. The brain is the last organ to become functional."

Several students said they were offended by Harris' remarks and don't think a professor should express such opinions in a class.

"I was in disbelief," said senior Lara Frame, who has a brother with Down syndrome. "I've never run across anyone who would say that to another individual, much less a class."

But some of the about 140 students in the class said the remarks weren't out of line.

"I thought it was perfectly justified," senior Scott Jones said. "I actually want to hear these opinions and form my own judgments about them. I think it's a matter of freedom of speech in education."

A UNC survey earlier this year showed that an overwhelming majority of students think their classroom environments allow for diverse expression of ideas.

Harris said his lecture was about frequency of birth defects, including Down syndrome, in mothers older than 40. He said abortion is the moral solution for a situation with a high rate of severe birth defects that can lead to death.

Forty to 50 percent of children with Down syndrome develop congenital heart defects and are 15 to 20 times more likely to develop leukemia than the general population, according to the Association for Children with Down Syndrome.

"It's this terrible decision," Harris said. "Ninety percent of people in this position have an abortion."

But Frame said the decision often stems from misconceptions about people with Down syndrome.

"This population can lead a fairly normal life," she said. Harris said he hoped his comments would spark a class discussion on the issue.

"I believe that if I'm going to expect students to express their opinions, I have to express mine," he said. "This can't help being partly an opinions class."

But some students said he didn't pause for discussion after making the statement, and Frame said biology classes should focus on facts. "They're not based on opinions."

Joseph Kieber, associate chairman of the Department of Biology, said he thinks professors should share their opinions but only under certain circumstances.

"It's a complicated issue," he said. "It comes down to whether it's relevant to the class."

Harris said that because many of his students are pre-med, some of them likely will have to make decisions on the subject.

"These are absolute questions they're going to face," he said.

And abortion is one of several options parents in the situation can consider. Another possibility is adoption, some noted.

"There is a long waitlist for people wanting to adopt children with Down syndrome," said senior Sarah Truluck, a member of the UNC Campus Y group Best Buddies, which sponsors activities such as talent shows for adults who have disabilities.

Harris said he would not choose abortion if faced with the decision himself.

"I was almost in that position, and we would have kept the baby," he said.

"We didn't have any abortions in my family."


fester said...

this guy sounds like he's personally opposed to the position but doesnt want to force his view on others.

Don Crane said...

Anyone that reads this and is pregnant with a Child With down Syndrome. You are welcome to contact me. I have two children with Down Syndrome. Our oldest (and we had ours younger) has an extra chromosome of "cute"ness. He is and our daughter are our biological children. Our third Child, adopted and he also has Trisomy 21 or AKA Down Syndrome...We are so very blessed and having these boys in our lives is amazing beyond words. I can be contacted at