#61

WRONGFUL BIRTH: A NEW APPALLING AND FRIGHTENING CONCEPT

Obstetricians and gynecologists may become and even rarer breed if the verdict of the highest appeals court in France is adopted in the United States or in Canada under its flawed Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That court affirmed in November that children suffering from Down's syndrome have a legal right never to have been born. In fact, it made the doctor who attended the pregnancy in question liable for all the costs of the specialized care the child has and will require. This because the doctor had failed to warn an expectant mother that her unborn child showed symptoms of Down's syndrome. The mother was thus deprived of the option of abortion. The prosecutor involved in the appeal process predicted that the decision could bring on a flood of abortions as a result of doctors` fears about their liability if they attended the birth of disabled children. In effect, the new medical directive could well become: Unsure? Abort!] The case, not surprisingly, has alarmed French doctors (as it should also our own), who dread a growing number of lawsuits and resulting prohibitively high insurance premiums.

This is by no means an isolated incident. The Supreme Court of Canada already has before it a "wrongful birth" case, brought by a Vancouver-area couple who claim that if they had known about an amniocentesis test to detect their son's Down syndrome during pregnancy, the mother would have had an abortion. Canada`s highest court will decide this year who is financially responsible for the lifetime care of the child: the doctor, the state, or the family?

The now legalized concept of a wrongful birth will be received, as the French bishop of Tours has expressed "with great sadness by all families who have welcomed Down syndrome children, who have showered them with love and received great love in return. This ruling amounts to a declaration that such love was worthless." It also amounts to a terrible insult to all families with disabled children. How long now, one wonders, until a disabled child demands payment from not just a doctor but his or her parents for not being aborted, because he or she was made to endure a condition the parents could very well have prevented? Why stop with a physical or mental handicap? Perhaps children of poor parents would seek compensation for their woeful existence also.

Such a dumfounding philosophy harboured by certain judges, who believe that it is better to be dead than handicapped, indicates a disturbing and barbaric mindset regarding some of society's most vulnerable citizens and amounts to a policy of state-controlled breeding - one reminiscent of Nazi-mandated eugenics. Groups for the disabled, aware of the adverse social fallout for them, quite understandably argue that it confirms and justifies the view now widespread in post-Latimer (father of disabled child he killed, who is receiving nation-wide support for an absolute pardon) Canada that disabled people are worthless and a disabled life is not worth living.

Lawsuits based on the absurd notion that a human life, if disabled, is a legal wrong and that the child would be better off if he or she had never been born, should have no place in our legal system. If our society is serious about eliminating discrimination against individuals with disabilities, our legal system should not be encouraging these offensive lawsuits that nurture a societal disdain for those with disabilities. The initial success of wrongful birth suits will prove very disturbing both in terms of its implications, especially for pro-life doctors, and in terms of what it says about our society's recognition of the responsibility of parents. How comforting, therefore, to see that a Michigan appeals court panel, in June 1999, already warned that the logic of wrongful birth suits "could quickly slide into applied eugenics and the elimination of supposedly unfit human lives." No one, absolutely no one, should be held legally liable for failure to provide information that would lead to an eugenic abortion.

Writing in 1981 in Human Life Review, Malcolm Muggeridge foresaw that genetic screening would lead to "the Humane Holocaust." Muggeridge said, "With the developing of modern medicine, the human race could be pruned and carefully tended until only the perfect blooms - the beauty queens, the mensa IQs, the athletes - remained." In this sad vision of the future - and the future is now - the eradication of sick and misshapen bodies or children afflicted with Down`s syndrome is considered a humane development, not an exercise in eugenics. As the situation in France unmistakably shows, we are well on our way to killing off the disabled for their own good.

One final sad reflection relating to this lethal state of affairs that the disabled might perhaps soon face. A nationwide survey conducted last year by a leading polling agency found that, although 54 percent of the French consider themselves Catholic, most respondents viewed abortion as justifiable. I wonder, would the situation be any better - or possibly worst - within our morally anaesthetized Canadian and American societies?

Thaddée Renault

New Brunswick, Canada

January 5, 2002


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