The father of a severely disabled child has slammed the agony aunt who said “any good mother” would smother a sick child, and revealed how caring for his daughter has enriched his life beyond measure.
Virginia Ironside, whose comments aired on last Sunday’s episode of the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live, also claimed that a “loving mother” would abort a disabled or unwanted child.
But Ian Birrell, whose 16-year-old daughter has a rare genetic disorder, has branded Miss Ironside a “eugenicist”, and described fatherhood as an “intensely rewarding” experience.
Mr Birrell, writing in The Daily Mail, said: “Her grossly insensitive comments on BBC TV that she would personally murder a disabled or unwanted child — that to kill such children was ‘the act of a loving mother’ — would seem unbelievable if they did not reveal attitudes still so prevalent in our society.
“She reveals herself to be not only foolish, but also to be a deeply unpleasant eugenicist.
“Her views would have been acceptable in ancient Greece, when the Spartans threw disabled children to their deaths as part of their quest for perfection.”
He added: “Imagine the outcry if Ms Ironside had said black children or gay teenagers should be exterminated. She would, rightly, never again be invited to display her stupidity on BBC television or to write her column for a liberal newspaper.”
Mr Birrell also attacked the mindset which suggests that “those with disabilities are inferior to the rest of us.”
Mr Birrell, citing the example of one of his friends whose autistic daughter died two years ago, suggested that Miss Ironside should also take some time to work with disabled children.
He said: “Then she would learn how much brighter the world is for all those disabled children that she would like to get rid of.
“She might even learn the real meaning of humanity.”
And though Mr Birrell describes his life as a “rollercoaster, never knowing what the day will bring”, he remains adamant that fatherhood is a rewarding experience.
He said: “My daughter swam by herself the other day. Well, when I say swam, she floated.”
He added: “She bobbed up and down for a while, then turned on her back, all the time keeping her head above the water.
“It was the first time she had done this without flotation aids — one of those lovely moments of personal triumph for a child that make being a parent so rewarding and magical. Like when my son walked for the first time, or wobbled down the road on his bike.
“It was also unexpected, because just two years ago she was approaching death. But then, since the birth of our daughter 16 years ago, we have got used to the incredible ups and downs of life with a disabled child.
“Life is never simple, sometimes terrifying, but always intensely rewarding in its own weird way.”
Mr Birrell also explained that the experience of caring for a disabled child has also led to the development of deeper, more sincere friendships.
Miss Ironside’s comments were screened on last Sunday’s edition of the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live programme.
Miss Ironside, an agony aunt at The Independent, said: “If I were the mother of a suffering child – I mean a deeply suffering child – I would be the first to want to put a pillow over its face… If it was a child I really loved, who was in agony, I think any good mother would.”
But Dr Peter Evans, of the Christian Medical Fellowship, cautioned: “For us to make judgements that people are not worth life, not worth the opportunity to live, is a very dangerous thing.”
During the show the mother-of-one also claimed that it was better to abort an unborn baby than to let a disabled or unwanted child live a life of emotional or physical suffering.
She said: “If a baby’s going to be born severely disabled or totally unwanted, surely an abortion is the act of a loving mother.”
She added: “Abortion can often be seen as something wicked and irresponsible, but in fact it can be a moral and unselfish act… Sometimes the decision of a good mother is not to have the child.”
But Clair Lewis, a disability campaigner, cautioned: “The problems that disabled people face will not be fixed by killing off unborn children.”