Last month, evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins caused some controversy in a Twitter conversation he was having with a number of his followers.
The conversation began when he was commenting on the illegality of abortion in Ireland, calling the ban “uncivilised”.
A follower contributed to the conversation with this comment:
I honestly don't know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.
Dawkins responded by saying:
Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.
The callousness of his comment was criticised not only by pro-life groups and advocates for those with disabilities, but by the members of the public more broadly. It also sparked interest because Dawkins seemed to be moving the goalposts by suggesting that allowing a child to live would actually be immoral in this circumstance. The idea that there had been a shift from questioning the morality of abortion to a debate about the morality of giving a child a chance to live was alarming.
I was thinking about this incident today when reading the story of Maria Sevilla and her son Tyrone.
Mrs Sevilla came to Australia from the Philippines in 2007 to study nursing. Australia’s skilled migration program includes a number of places for nurses and other health care workers, because there is such a great need for them in this country, particularly in regional areas. Mrs Sevilla completed her nursing degree and is currently working at Townsville Hospital.
But her application for a skilled migration visa has been refused because her son is autistic, and so does not meet the health requirements of the Migration Act. His autism is considered too much of a financial burden on the country.
Tyrone is not an isolated case. The provisions in the Migration Act make it extraordinarily difficult for a person to stay in Australia if one of their children has even a mild disability, because those whose estimated health care costs would exceed $40,000 in their lifetime are automatically rejected. It might seem like a lot of money, but spread over a lifetime, it amounts to only $500 per year.
There is no exception to this, even in the case of someone like Mrs Sevilla, who works full time, pays taxes and maintains private health insurance for her and her son. She is also surrounded by immediate and extended family, who provide additional support to her and Tyrone.
While it might be imprudent to not take the cost of providing health care into account for visa applicants, the “no exceptions without ministerial intervention” rule sends a clear message that Australia does not even want to consider accepting those with disabilities into the country.
Consider the case of Baby Gammy, whose rejection by his biological parents caused so much outrage recently. Had Gammy have been born in Australia to a mother on a non-permanent visa, any application for permanent residency would be denied as a matter of policy. Forgive the bluntness of this comment, but it makes the condemnation of Gammy’s parents by Australian authorities somewhat disingenuous.
Imagine what will happen the next time someone who is not an Australian citizen falls pregnant and discovers that the child she is carrying will be born “imperfect”? If they give birth to the child, they face certain deportation.
Given this, are the Migration Act provisions really any different from Mr Dawkins’ instruction that anything other than aborting a child with Down Syndrome and trying again would be immoral?
Monica Doumit, Catholic Talk contributor