I am 19 weeks pregnant and just received results from an amniocentesis test that the fetus has Downs Syndrome and is mentally retarded. I would like to abort the fetus.
What is the Jewish law on aborting in this case?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
In almost all cases, abortion is forbidden in Judaism (Talmud – Sanhedrin 59a).
As a general guideline, if the fetus poses a real danger to the mother – e.g. the pregnancy will aggravate a heart condition or will cause the mother to go blind – there is room for discussion.
However, when it comes to handicaps, Judaism says that instituting any type of “selection process” is immoral. It hearkens to the Nazi program "T-4," which systematically set out to kill all physically and mentally disabled persons. (see http://www.aish.com/ho/p/48964561.html) This philosophy has found recent expression in the writings of Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, who advocates euthanasia for severely handicapped infants and the elderly.
The great 20th century sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, wrote that there is no difference whether the child would turn out to be ill, retarded, afflicted with Tay-Sachs, etc. Just as killing a 10-year-old child with such maladies would be immoral, so too here.
Rabbi Feinstein writes that we cannot judge the ultimate good. Our limited human criterion of judgment is tainted with subjectivity – such as how difficult it would be to raise such a child. But in the spiritual realm, such a child might have a very unique and special mission, unknown to us in this world. ("Igrot Moshe" – C.M. 2:69)
The true value of a person is his soul. The great 20th century sage the Chazon Ish used to stand up in respect when a person with Downs Syndrome came into the room. He explained that to have been given such limitations, the soul of this person must be very great, having come into this world to complete the process of perfection in this unique way.
Ask any parents of a handicapped child and they will tell you that their child is precious – irrespective of "performance." I recommend an article written by the father of a Downs boy. www.aish.com/sp/so/48969921.html
Also, see this inspiring video on Aish.com where the father of boy recounts an incredible story to show how when God brings such a child into the world, the perfection He seeks is in the way people react to this child. www.aish.com/v/insp/50574232.html
I will also mention that Downs Syndrome children are routinely adopted and given into foster homes, if the biological parents cannot handle the burden. I know of families who have adopted these children lovingly as their own.
This answer is not intended to give the final decision. All cases have many details, and you must consult with a proper halachic authority before acting. There are nuances of rabbinic opinions, and each case must be decided on an individual basis. The exact stage of pregnancy may be a factor as well. If you need help finding a halachic authority in your city, I will be gladly recommend one.
I appreciate how agonizing this decision must be for you, and I do not minimize the difficulty of raising such a child. But there are great rewards as well.
May the Almighty give you the clarity and strength to do the right thing.