Wrongful Birth and Wrongful Life Lawsuits Just Plain Wrong

Opinion   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Feb 13, 2012   |   11:09AM   |   Washington, DC

Wrongful birth and wrongful life lawsuits are just plain wrong.

The wrongful birth suit is brought by the parents of a sick or disabled child against a physician that, the parents say, was negligent. The wrongful birth lawsuit does not say that the doctor caused the disease or disability, which would be a valid reason to sue. Instead the wrongful birth lawsuit claims the that doctor failed to inform the parents of the illness or disability of the child and that had they known, they would have aborted their child. In other words, the parents are saying we wish our child was dead. Because he or she is not, the doctor has to pay.

The parents often use the excuse that they love their child; they are simply suing to acquire funds to care for their sick or disabled offspring. But to get those funds they have to insist that, had they known, they would have killed that very same child.

The wrongful life lawsuit differs from the wrongful birth lawsuit in that in the wrongful life suit, it is the child that sues the doctor insisting they never should have been born.

These lawsuits are pernicious for many reasons, the first is the assumption that the sick and disabled are better off dead.

The second is that in states where this kind of lawsuit is allowed, it puts tremendous pressure on doctors to conduct a seek-and-destroy mission against fetuses with disease or disability. Otherwise, the doctor may be sued for doing his or her job: bringing a live child into the world.

Arizona is attempting to join a handful of other states in outlawing wrongful birth lawsuits after a wrongful birth lawsuit was successful in Florida. From AZCapitolTimes:

An Arizona legislator wants to shield doctors from so-called “wrongful birth” lawsuits, which can arise if physicians don’t inform pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead to the decision to have an abortion.

Republican state Sen. Nancy Barto, who introduced the proposal, said allowing such medical malpractice suits to continue endorses the idea that, if a child is born with a disability, someone is to blame.

Arizona could become the latest state to ban lawsuits similar to one filed by a Florida couple whose son was born with no arms and one leg.

The couple sued their doctor for not detecting their son’s disabilities before he was born, arguing that if they had known, they would have elected to have an abortion. In September, a jury awarded them $4.5 million to care for the boy.

The reality is that these lawsuits put undue pressure on doctors to find any manner of possible diseases or genetic conditions, even if there is no real treatment available. (Killing the patient with abortion is not treating disease or disability.) They also send the message loud and clear that the lives of those who are sick or disable are worth less than those who are “healthy.”

Cathi Herrod, president of Center for Arizona Policy, which proposed the bill to Arizona legislators is 100% right :

[Herrod] said she opposes the lawsuits because they give the impression that “the life of a disabled child is worth less than the life of a healthy child.”

“Public policy should reflect in Arizona that no child’s life is a wrongful life,” Herrod said.

The other states that prohibit this perversion of malpractice law are Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota Pennsylvania, and Utah.

Idaho law states:

“A cause of action shall not arise, and damages shall not be awarded, on behalf of any person, based on the claim that but for the act or omission of another, a person would not have been permitted to have been born alive but would have been aborted.”

There is similar language in many of the states that reject wrongful life or wrongful birth suits. Pennsylvania law argues that prohibiting wrongful birth lawsuits prevents:

medical personnel “from being coerced into accepting eugenic abortion as a consideration for avoiding” lawsuits.

More states need to have prohibitions on both wrongful life and wrongful birth lawsuits. Rejecting these suits protects doctors from being coerced into the prenatal seek-and-destroy mentality. It also reinforces the principle that all life has value. The lives of sick or disabled children are just as valuable as those who do not have special needs. State law needs to reflect this reality.

LifeNews.com Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).