James Watson

Nobel Laureate Wishes He'd Aborted His Son

by Jay Johansen

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James Watson, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, said in a speech at Washington University that if he had known that his son had a genetic defect leading to autism while he was still in the womb, he would have had him aborted.

According to a story in the Sept 4, 1997 St Louis Post-Dispatch, Watson made this statement in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 in the university's Graham Chapel.

In a question-and-answer session following his speech, a woman in the audience who had a child with a genetic defect (Fragile X chromosome, which causes mental retardation) said that children with such defects can nevertheless make good progress and suggested that abortion was not appropriate.

Watson replied, "I think what we want is for a woman to have the right for tests to be available and not be thought to be immoral because she would choose not to have a child who would be disadvantaged." Then he added, "I have a son who is disadvantaged in another way, so I speak with personal knowledge."

Later, Watson told the Post-Dispatch reporter that "he would have chosen to have a healthy child without a genetic defect if he could have availed himself of the type of DNA testing available today". No present technology is capable of correcting such defects, so when he says that he would have "chosen to have a healthy child" he must intend this as a euphemism for saying that he would have had the sick child killed.

Watson quickly added that he and his wife will still do their utmost to give their son the best possible life. Watson did not give his son's age, and an assistant would only say that he was now a "young adult". It is not known if the son heard his father's comments about him.

Watson, 69, received the Nobel prize for his research on the structure of DNA, which he described in his book, The Double Helix. He is presently director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a genetic research facility on Long Island, New York.

Posted 4 Sep 2000.

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Copyright 1997 by Ohio Right to Life. Used with permission.
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