A jury in Portland, Ore., awarded a couple $2.9 million dollars on Friday for the “wrongful birth” of their daughter who has Down syndrome.
Kalanit Levy was born in June of 2007 to Ariel and Deborah Levy, after prenatal testing did not reveal any abnormalities.
The Levys’ attorney said Dr. Thomas Jenkins removed maternal tissue – instead of the fetal tissue – from Deborah Levy’s womb which resulted in faulty test readings. The suit also faults the medical center for reassuring Deborah Levy that her baby didn’t have an extra 21st chromosome.
The couple says they would have had an abortion had the test been done properly and they had known about the Down syndrome.
It wasn’t until a few days after Kalanit’s birth that a blood test confirmed that the little girl had the genetic disorder. And now, four years later, the Levys are suing the hospital to pay for the extra costs of caring for their daughter.
The Levys said in the suit that they worry about future medical problems and their daughter’s ability to interact with others. They have been told by experts that Kalanit will most likely not be able to live on her own.
And while “wrongful birth” cases like the Levys’ are rare because most prenatal birth tests are 99.7 percent accurate, Dr. Art Caplan, a bioethicist, wrote on MSNBC’s medical blog, “Vitals,” that “the very fact that such a case can make it into a courtroom reveals a lot that is wrong with public policy and ethics in America.”
He said the case ultimately gets at the heart of how society views and values life and “asks who should have to pay when that life is less than optimal.”
He wrote, “Wrongful birth lawsuits are a horrible way to deal with failed prenatal testing. Forcing parents to argue that their child never should have been born may make legal sense but it is morally absurd.”
For Caplan, there is no reason to allow a wrongful birth case. He said the solution lies in allowing “some sort of no-fault insurance scheme under the supervision of neutral mediators, not a courtroom slugfest that demeans the value of a life with disability and reeks of eugenics.”
But wrongful birth lawsuits may become more common as technology advances, and as more women in their late 30s or 40s give birth. These expectant mothers will all come to rely on genetic screenings –none of which are 100 percent accurate.
Studies already show that more than 85 percent of parents who learn through prenatal testing that a fetus has Down syndrome terminate the pregnancy.
Dr. Jeff Myers, president of Summit Ministries, told The Christian Post that it’s likely we will see more of these types of cases. He said this confusion over the ethics of life stems largely from abortion policies and the devaluing of human life.
He told CP that doctors are now going to have to start defending themselves over test results. “I think they (doctors) will make the argument that parents can choose to abort [their child] after it’s born.” He said this will happen because they want to protect themselves from medical malpractice.
For Myers, this is a big ethical issue, and one Christians need to get better at defending. “If I don’t communicate [that a
person is a human],” Myers said, “then I am ceding the right to make an argument about whether or not children should have value after birth.”