ISIS issues fatwa to kill children with Down syndrome: is that wrong?

is-flagThe Islamic State in Iraq & Syria (ISIS) has issued a fatwa to kill children with disabilities, including those with Down syndrome. Is this wrong?

While the initial report of the fatwa appeared on a Facebook group called “The Mosul Eye,” it has been picked up by a number of news outlets, giving credibility to the fatwa actually having been issued.

Now, why is this wrong?

Perhaps even asking the question will take some readers aback.

For some, it will be simply: well ISIS is bad, ergo whatever they do is bad. (Feel free to read that in the voice of Mr. Mackey).

For others, it will be that it is wrong to single out the disabled to be killed, because that’s bigoted, prejudiced, and indicts a culture if the true test of civilization is how the most needy are treated–in the culture of ISIS, they are to be killed, apparently.

This argument is strengthened when you consider that the reported fatwa is being carried out by lethal injection or suffocation. In case the italics weren’t enough, let that sink in: suffocating children with Down syndrome.

For others, generally it will be: killing children is bad, so killing children with Down syndrome is bad.

And, almost immediately, the fatwa was ruled bad by some because it hearkened back to Akton T4, the Nazi’s beta-test of the Holocaust in which doctors killed children with disabilities, including those with Down syndrome (and, as I learned in my most recent visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, some doctors kept killing children with disabilities even after Germany had surrendered).

So, the fatwa is bad because ISIS is bad, discriminating against the disabled is bad, killing children is bad, and the Nazi’s did it?

But, wait.

Not that long ago, the Journal of Medical Ethics (I know I’m repeating myself for emphasis, but let me emphasize this was argued for in the Journal of Medical Ethics) had as its lead article academics who were arguing in favor of “after birth abortion,” citing the high termination rate for Down syndrome to support their argument.

So, was that bad because they argued it was ethically acceptable to kill children if the parents didn’t want them? Or, was that less bad because they were academics and didn’t issue a religious edict like a fatwa or anything; they just wrote about it as the lead article in a scholarly journal on ethics. Does that make “after birth abortion” less bad than ISIS’s fatwa to kill children with disabilities?

Or, let’s move the timeline to prior to being born.

In 2014, Richard Dawkins tweeted that it was immoral to give birth to a child with Down syndrome if you had a prenatal diagnosis. Was that bad for discriminating against Down syndrome? Or was that not bad because its Richard Dawkins, a noted scientist, and he wasn’t calling for killing children, but instead aborting fetuses with Down syndrome?

And, if killing children because the children have Down syndrome is bad because it’s bigoted and discriminatory, and if pronouncing it is immoral to choose to give birth to a child with Down syndrome because, again, it’s bigoted and discriminatory, and it disrespected a parent’s right to choose, then …

Is it bad that cell free DNA screening companies conduct studies and have their CEO present at national medical conferences on how their tests can save society money because it can identify pregnancies carrying a child with Down syndrome and allow them to be aborted?

Is that bad because it’s discriminatory and disrespects a parent’s right to choose?

Or, is that just simply sound public health, cost-effectiveness, the allocation of the scarce health resources analysis that just makes sense and why public programs like California’s prenatal screening program and more and more state Medicaid programs, and private insurers have determined that cfDNA screening is “medically necessary”?

Because ISIS would tell you, hey, this is just cold reality: we don’t have the resources needed to devote to caring for these more-needy children.

If anything, it’s compassionate.

It spares them a life of burden and it frees up those scarce resources to make things better for the rest of us.

Or is that bad?


  1. This latest horrific brutality from ISIS should provoke both outrage and introspection.

    We also have a socially normalised context that Down syndrome is targeted for selective abortion, often funded by western governments, which encourages the elimination of unborn children with Down Syndrome.

    The informal eugenics of our own culture can scarcely be thought of as more civilised than that of the practitioners of terror.

    But is it bad? As we both know, the majority of our culture thinks it’s OK if it’s a choice of the parents. There are very few who will go the hard yards and say Down selective terminations are unethcial. Really, the question lies at the feet of those who endorse selective terminations.

  2. Point well made, Mark.

  3. Hi. I tried to find a way to private message you but I couldn’t find it. I want you to know that this article was shared with me by another parent who missed the sarcasm. I’m not going to lie, for a while I missed the sarcasm as well, perhaps because it was shared with me by an angry person and I was biased before reading it and it was the first article I read from your blog. Normally I’m pretty good at picking up sarcasm, but I didn’t the first time. However, now that I understand your point, I agree 100%. I was just thinking that it might be a good idea to add a note at the bottom for those of us who think with emotion before logic. 🙂 Have a wonderful day.

  4. jami young says:

    It is almost always a terrible thing to kill another human being. A fetus is not there yet. That is the line drawn for a number of reasons even as we debate moving it. But once someone is born, that someone is a someone, a person, who should be entitled to the same rights as all other human beings.

    I don’t like abortion. It’s a terrible thing. Selective abortions are a subcategory of abortions, and are no better in that they have a reason for ending the potential for life. Is it any worse to terminate a pregnancy because one simply does not want to endure it, have a baby–any baby, because it’s one gender or not, if it has a a fixable problem, unfixable condition, a chance of a certain condition? Termination is legal in our country , though debated, and reflects the reality that the carrier of the fetus is the most always the only person in the world that can continue its journey to life as a human. The lines are being redrawn rapidly, however, and that is a discussion that also should be happening.

    But for now, IMO, no selective or any abortion is not at all the same thing as killing children with DS or any condition. Is it just children covered under this fatwa or all people with DS, I wonder. What is the magic age when the child crosses into adulthood for these executioners?

  5. Gosh, I’m glad you’re being sarcastic ….Yes, some doctors in the west have had similar ideas, and historically I’ve heard that they’ve suffocated or starved babies with Down’s Syndrome, and other disabilities. This included some of the victims of the Thalidomide scandal.

    They acted in ignorance. I had a next door neighbor as a child who had been affected by Thalidomide. He could do everything anyone else could, just in a different way. He was also able to drive and work for a living.

    Somebody put up a comment on a message board under a report about the Isis fatwa. It did not appear to be a Poe. The contributor was called Michelle. She hated Islam but agreed with Isis on this as disabled children are a financial drain on society. She said only guilt ridden parents and lefty morons would disagree.

    Oddly enough, other people accused lefties and liberals of being eugenicists. Somebody underneath commented, ‘I tend to agree with you Michelle’, basing this view on the alleged suffering the kids would endure, and then discussed whether they should be smothered or given a lethal injection.

    Somebody noted that her son was autistic. When he was a child, she had been given the impression that there was little point in his being alive. He now had a PhD. She called Michelle and her fan ‘hard nosed morons.’

    The second contributor said that was different. Her son was only autistic, not physically deformed. There’s no point in arguing with some people. They are impervious to information, and unaware of their own ignorance.

    Michelle is a Nazi to put it plainly. She subscribes to the ‘useless eater’ trope, and neither Stephen Hawking, Tanni Grey-Thompson nor Francesca Martinez will change her mind. I should thin this hate speech is actionable. It was in Ursula Presgrave’s case.

    Post birth abortion? I’ve heard of it before. All British hospitals have signage telling us they are ‘positive about disabled people’, but it’s not accurate. Theoretically backward ideas are even more common among health visitors and community midwives than the general population. We should monitor and re-educate them.

  6. Abortion has to be legal in some circumstances. The alternative is indirectly murdering women when an unviable foetus is poisoning her.

    Pope Pius xi pontificated in 1930 that the ‘innocent’ ie the foetus must not be ‘directly murdered’ to save the mother. This even applies when the foetus cannot be saved.

    This is a Roman Catholic dogma in force today. The RC Church is in favour of sacrificing women’s lives not to save babies, but for the sake of it, on a papal whim.

    This is what happened to Savita in Ireland. Immediately afterwards, Pope Bennedict said it was correct, and this should continue.

    The Roman Catholic Church is a criminal organisation which should be closed down.

    We don’t hear it enough. Abortion can save lives.

    But what about in less stark cases? Once it is legal at all, how can you not have abortion on demand? To limit the acceptable circumstances, just forces people to lie.

    I don’t like sex selective abortion or abortion to weed out disabled kids. But in this crazy world, there is so much prejudice against disabled kids and even their parents, you can understand why parents would want to spare themselves that.

    Richard Dawkins may know a lot about biology; he may be very right on religion,but he is entirely ignorant about disability as some of his other remarks eg about the conjoined twins Jodie and Mary show. I wouldn’t take any notice of him on that subject.

    I think we must make a sharp distinction between a foetus and a baby that has been born. If you don’t get human rights at birth, when do you get them?


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