Wrongful birth: Parents sue over doctor’s ‘mistake’

From Wesley J. Smith, who has moved his Secondhand Smoke blog to First Things, comes the story of an Oregon couple who are suing because a test during missed that their child had Down syndrome. Had they known, they would have aborted the child. From the story:

In the months before their daughter was born in 2007, Deborah and Ariel Levy worried the baby might have Down syndrome. They say a doctor at the Legacy Center for Maternal-Fetal Medicine assured them that a sample of tissue taken from the placenta early in the pregnancy ruled out the developmental disability, despite the results of later testing that showed the fetus might have it. But within days of the birth of their daughter, the Southwest Portland couple learned the baby did have Down syndrome. Had they known, they say, they would have terminated the pregnancy. Now they’re suing in Multnomah County Circuit Court, seeking more than $14 million to cover the costs of raising her and providing education, medical care, and speech and physical therapy for their daughter, who turned 2 this month. The suit also seeks money to cover her life-long living expenses.

In the story the parents, who declined to be interviewed, say they love their daughter as much as her older siblings. Yet they are also aware of being seen as heartless for wanting to sue because she was born instead of being terminated by abortion. There is an indication that there is something in these people’s souls that tells them what they were seeking was wrong — after all, they realize that killing the child is a heartless act, at least in the eyes of some. However, the idea that suing for a botched test, even if that test would have led to something like killing your own child, supersedes  their moral hesitancy.

Even with tests that are highly accurate, there is no guarantee that parents can definitely know whether their child will have Down syndrome or not. It is not about botched tests all the time. Sometimes you just can’t tell. But where science or medicine falls short, others can step in. Instead of covering doubt with abortions or recommending abortions, perhaps doctors should be pointing parents to places that can help them cope with life with a Down child. In the Oregonian article, a word of hope and of caution is sounded:

The Northwest Down Syndrome Association in Portland encourages doctors to send parents expecting a baby with Down syndrome to her organization, said Executive Director Angela Jarvis-Holland, because it is equipped to answer questions about what life will be like.

“Because what constitutes a good life?” Jarvis-Holland said. “I don’t think doctors can answer that in a two-minute conversation.”

Prenatal tests can’t discern the severity of Down syndrome, and it varies widely by individual. Jarvis-Holland said involved parents with the right resources can greatly improve their child’s development.

She said the ability to test for a growing array of conditions means many more women will be faced with the question of whether they want to be tested for everything from autism to an alcoholism gene (tests are in the works), and what they’ll do if the results come back positive.

“Down syndrome is really the canary in the coal mine,” Jarvis-Holland said. “It will be everybody’s question before we know it.”

Jarvis-Holland, who has a 10-year-old son with Down syndrome, worries about what she calls the “tyranny of perfection” if parents one day will be able to test for virtually every conceivable disadvantage facing their fetus.

“If you keep growing the list, where and when do we grow uncomfortable about that list?” Jarvis-Holland said. “I’m not sure where this is taking us.”

HT: Zach Nielsen