Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wrongful life: Where do we draw the line and why?

Wrongful Life Lawsuit in OZ
Tuesday, July 20, 2010, 12:49 PM
Wesley J. Smith

The ongoing pogrom against babies with Down syndrome continues. In Australia, from whence I recently returned, two couples have sued their doctors for failing to diagnose their then unborn babies as having Down–thereby denying them the right to terminate the pregnancies. From the story:

Two Victorian couples are suing doctors for failing to diagnose Down syndrome in their unborn babies, denying them the chance to terminate the pregnancies. The couples are claiming unspecified damages for economic loss, continuing costs of care of the children, and “psychiatric injury”. Both say they would have aborted their pregnancies had they been told their children would be born with Down syndrome.

May these children never learn that their parents would have preferred that they were never born!

We claim today to be a society steeped in equality and tolerance for differences. But too often, that doesn’t apply to people with cognitive or developmental disabilities. I hope this suit fails because there should be no such thing as a “wrongful life.”

What constitutes a morally acceptable reason for wrongful life claims? second hand smoke? what is preposterous? what is potentially reasonable? how are these alike and yet different? Do any of them satisfy wrongful life conditions and why?


  1. When reading this story, I was completely floored at the parents' reactions. Of course every expecting parent hopes and prays for a healthy child. Whether or not they have a defect, the child is still their own flesh and blood, and to love him/her any less based on a disability is something those parents should be ashamed of. Every pregnancy comes with risks, and the possibility that there could be deficits, so parents should be completely aware and prepared for that. There is no such thing as a "wrongful life" and if that is the mindset that expecting parents have, then they should not be having children at all. If they are incapable of giving the same amount of love to a healthy child compared to one with a disability, then they are not fully prepared to handle a parental role.

  2. Even in the case of parents choosing to selectively abort fetuses based on their disability status, I find the ethical implications disturbing. This practice is based on the notion that some lives are more worth living than others, and that a disabled child is nothing more than a mistake or problem. But especially in this case of parents who actually are raising children with Down's Syndrome and still consider them basically worthless is even more disturbing - these parents are actively living with, interacting, and raising their own children and continue to have a low respect for their lives. Being a parent does certainly come with many challenges, but it is a responsibility that should be taken on with basic principles of caring and not wishing harm on your children. The lawsuits imply the parents are more concerned with how difficult and burdensome their children are since they do not fit their parents discriminatory ideals than they are concerned with the intrinsic value of their own children. I think the families in this case need some kind of intervention to ensure these kids are being treated with respect and that there is no harm being inflicted on them in any way - the attitudes of the parents does make me worry for how these kids are being treated at home.

  3. Even though i tried to understand where these parents were coming from when reading this article that says they would have preferred to have an abortion than to give birth to their children because they had down syndrome the only thing I could think of was the fact that maybe having a child with such a disability comes with extra costs when it comes to caring for the child and the different treatments that he/she may need but that is not enough of an excuse to say that they would have much rather aborted their children. There is no such thing as a wrongful life... if the possibility of having a child with a disability was such a big deal to them they should have asked for the test which would diagnose such a disease; it is not the doctor's responsibility to bring up the idea of diagnosing their child such a disease leading to giving them the option to terminate the pregnancy. While there comes the whole ethical issues of doctors should not be doing any harm to anyone one could take both sides saying that by giving that option of diagnosis and termination of pregnancy he would be causing death/harm to the baby and doing what the parents wanted (what's best for them) or one could say that he did what was best for the baby and letting them live but not the best for the parents who now have a child with down syndrome. I personally think this is absurd, every child is a child no matter what diseases and disabilities they are born with or develop throughout their life. This is their child and should not be wasting time going against the doctors instead they should spend their time seeking better treatments and caring for their child. It also goes without saying that one day these children are going to learn about what their parents have been doing and saying that if they knew they would have been aborted and this is just causing the children extra, unnecessary pain that they are going to have to live with forever... thinking that since they have down syndrome they are not good enough to live and are not loved.

  4. The parents may have a case. However personally I do not think there is a thing as a wrongful life. Like my peers, the fact that parents would abort their children because of a difference is horrible. Who are the parents to judge if the child is fit to exists? Every child should have the right to live. A wrongful life implies that there mere existence is wrong. Nothing is wrong just because it exists. Killing is not in itself wrong, because it could have been for self defense. Nothing is intrinsically wrong and to say a life is intrinsically wrong is just horrible.

  5. As I read this blogpost, my first thought was that these parents could not possibly have a case. Mainly this is based on the fact that there are several prenatal tests that can check for Down syndrome. If the parents have such strong feelings against having a child with this disease, they should have asked the doctor to perform the tests.
    Regarding the wrongful life claims, I do not think Down Syndrome falls under this category. For one thing, it is possible for children with down syndrome to live a relatively normal life. Furthermore, it is difficult to assess the severity of the disease. Down syndrome can be very mild, and although it will undoubtedly effect the child's life I don't think it could be considered a "wrongful life".
    However, there are a number of diseases where I do think parents should consider abortion. Today in class we discussed some diseases more common among Ashkenazi Jews, such as Tay-Sachs. Children with Tay-Sachs rarely live past the age of 4 and the short life they live is one filled with much difficulty and suffering. The brief life a child with Tay-Sachs lives cannot be considered a life. I think parents who have a predisposition to a severe disease such as this have a moral obligation to test themselves before becoming pregnant and to avoid pregnancy if they test positive.

    -Katharina Schwan

  6. Although the parents feel they should have had the right to terminate the child with Down's Syndrome, that would be taking away someone else's right to live. However, there is no one to make that decision but the parents. In the parents' defense, they should have been given the right to know about their child's diagnosis in the first place, yet taking the unborn child's life would be in their hands from then on. It is clear that these parents are not very accepting and they should have considered possible outcomes before deciding to have a baby. They should learn beforehand to take what child they are given. If they wanted a perfect child, maybe they should've gone to see a genetic counselor to hand-pick good genes instead of putting the blame on their own child.

  7. It is true that raising children with cognitive and/or developmental disabilities can be difficult- it takes a toll on the families financially, physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. And it is not necessarily wrong for parents to want their children to be born in good health. But it has always been to my understanding, or my preferred way of thinking, that a parent's love should be unconditional. Each child, with and without disabilities, has an inherent right to life, though it is at the expense of the caregivers. The two couples described are clearly suffering over having children who were diagnosed with Down syndrome. They can sue the doctor and blame everyone else all they want, but it won't change anything other than that they are being undeniably selfish. Any person who is willing to give birth to and raise a child needs to understand that the act of being a parent requires you to be as least selfish as possible- it is not only their life at stake anymore. They need to consider the consequences along with the possibilities before making such a decision, whether they know of any disability before the birth or not. Until they do that, they are not fit to be parents- children are not objects that can be returned to the store. No one can know for sure what the future will hold. If people are intending on creating life, they need to fully grasp its worth and unconditionally value the life of their own flesh and blood.

    -Danielle Choi

  8. I don't think that there are any morally acceptable reasons for a "wrongful life" claim. By the logic of these parents, any child who was unwanted by his/her parents would be considered a wrongful life: due to genetic disorders or just accidental pregnancies.
    Additionally, who are these parents to say that a child born without down syndrome will have better lives than a child born with down syndrome? There are no guarantees that a child born without down syndrome will outlive or prosper more than a child with down syndrome.
    By suing for wrongful life, these parents are indirectly saying that the value of "normal", healthy person's life is higher than that of someone with a genetic disorder or any other type of disorder.
    Additionally, the parents are acting in terms of their best interests, without considering the interests of their children. Because their child's condition is incovenient for them, they feel they have a right to complain and sue over the life of their child. However, if these same parents had given birth to a perfectly healthy child, and the child had developed into an alcoholic and drug addict, would they still be claiming that the child suffered a "wrongful life?"
    Every human is born with the potential for disease and genetic disorders, making our population diverse. This diversity drives social acceptance and medical innovations that look at healing rather than discrimination. If parents discriminate against children with disorders and diseases, then there will only be less acceptance in society and a stigma towards children born with these disorders to parents against genetic screening.

    -Shannon Young

  9. During class today, discussing this whole idea of genetic testing and "wrongful life" was very tough to wrap my head around. Every young adult who wants to be a parent imagines what it will be like to have kids. I know my friends and I joke all the time about what they'll dress like, act like, talk like, be good at, and what their flaws will be. I imagine a son and/or daughter with a similar upbringing to my own. No one hopes for or expects to have a child with a disability; everyone hopes his or her child will be perfect. Of course, this is not the reality. Most parents tell their children that they will love them no matter what. I have had lots of interaction with families with mentally challenged children and have seen first hand the joy and happiness that these children can bring. But I also know that these families now lead lives that, although bring them great love and happiness, they would not have chosen initially.
    It makes me sick that these parents would sue the doctors for not advising them to abort, especially now that the children are presumably no longer infants, but of an age that they must by now be feeling the lack of love from their parents. I also pity the parents because clearly if they are taking this to court then they really must not love their children, and that is SO sad, for all involved. Once you have a child you cannot undo that tie you have to that other person, no matter how hard you try. There is such a difference between hoping to not have a child with disabilities and regretting having a child you have that is disabled. It makes me sad that these parents couldn’t learn to love what they had in these children, and I think that says a lot about the type of people they are. A life is not wrongful unless labeled as such in the eyes of others.

    -Jess Safer

  10. I don't think we're being given the full story from the short synopsis given to us. There is nothing stating that the parents don't love their children, just that, had they been given all of the information, they may have made other decisions. I don't think that 'wrongful life' suits pertain solely to the children, I think that the 'wrongful life' title extends to the parents as well. If the parent had been given all of the information about their child's condition, they would have chosen a different path for their own life. They would not have picked to have children with special needs. It seems that the parents went out of their way to determine if their children were going to be born in good health, and the doctors failed to either interpret the information correctly or to pass on that information to the parents. In doing so, the doctors took away the parents' rights to make an informed decision for themselves and their unborn child. Again, there is no mention of the amount of love between the parents and their children; that comment about the parents not wanting their children to be born is a biased statement made by Wesley Smith.

    As far as a 'wrongful life' goes, I don't think it's up to me to set the definite boundaries on what a 'wrong' life is, because the value on a life can vary from person to person. I think a 'wrongful life' is a life that I couldn't personally see myself wanting to live. I would not want to live with Downs Syndrome, so for me that is a wrongful life. Others may feel that they would want to live if they had Downs Syndrome, so their definitions are different from mine. Lives that are lead in unbelievable pain from different diseases are wrongful lives, especially if the parents know that their children will suffer until they die. Every pregnancy comes with risks of different diseases and deformities, but it seems like the parents mentioned in the synopsis went out of their way to have healthy children, and their doctors failed them.

  11. Although there is a large population who would not agree, I can understand why the parents would have chosen abortion, had they known that their babies had Down syndrome. Initially, it is very difficult to see what life is going to be like raising a child with a disability. However, it is clear that nobody thinks that the burden that babies with disabilities put on their family constitutes their lives as wrongful. Maybe the parents should consider this: If they knew that they were going to give birth to a baby that will grow up and become a serial killer (somebody who's life most people would agree has been wrongful), would the parents have chosen to abort those babies as well? Although there is a large environmental component underlying criminal behavior, plenty of research has found genetic predispositions to certain behaviors, but not that there are genetic tests for quite yet. The most harm that the babies with down syndrome will do is put a little more of a burden on the family than a healthy baby would. I think everyone also agrees that these parents are overreacting. It isn't clear whether or not they actually got a test done, or if they were just leaving it up to the doctors to miraculously know. Either way, whether the parents have have a case or not, they also have a baby and it is unfair to say that the disability that the baby has no control over means that his/her life is wrongful. Especially when compared to people who made the choice to live wrongfully and potentially harm others, even with something as little as second-hand smoke.

    -Becca Adlman

  12. I do not think the claims of these parents are entirely unreasonable. The parents obviously have motives behind suing the doctors, whether it is to obtain money, to get "justice" for not giving them the choice to abort a disabled fetus, or a mixture of both. Either way, the parents are more concerned with their own wellbeings than they are with that of the child. The care of a child requires parents to put that child first; however, in the case of a disabled child, this need is amplified to a much larger extent. So parents who would risk the child learning of this suit, regardless of the verdict, do not seem fit to care for such a child. In today's society, we are told that a person is not embodied by their disease, rather it is something that they have. Learning that its parents measured and dismissed its value purely by its disease could cause inexplicable emotional damage to the child. There is no telling how the parents will raise this child. Still, they have already risked its emotional wellbeing. The life of this child may be wrongful in the sense that its parents will not be fit to care for it, and give it the love and support it deserves.

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  14. I would like to know what constitutes “failing to diagnose down syndrome in their unborn babies.” Did these couples obtain inaccurate genetic screenings of their unborn children? This synopsis of the article gives no background information of the extent in which these families actively sought to avoid giving birth to a child with a disability or disease. I also have to wonder how accurate genetic screenings actually are. I know that with a lot of general medical screenings or tests there is a significant possibility that results may be inaccurate. Did the physician, and if not, should physicians in future similar scenarios, explain to the parents that there is always a slight possibility that despite taking all the right preventative measures, the results of the tests could be inaccurate to some extent?
    I guess my overall opinion on the situation is all potential parents should realize that there is always a possibility that their child may have a disability or disease. Though I’m sure it is disappointing to first hear that your child has a disability or a disease, there is no such thing as a wrongful life. Part of the responsibility of becoming a parent is to roll with the punches and love your children unconditionally. It is devastating and I’m sure unfortunate to come face to face with a situation in which you tried to avoid but there is now a face and a name to this child and no living being should ever be categorized as a wrongful life.

  15. For me, there is no such thing as a wrongful life and thus there is no morally acceptable reason to make a wrongful life claim. I think that much of the problem with this situation is in the terminology. “Wrongful life” is a term that really should not exist. I don’t see why this case cannot be filed under a malpractice suit. The doctor did not find a problem with the fetus and if the parents and lawyers are able to prove that the doctor missed the signs, then they have a case.
    Another aspect is to consider why a parent would file such a suit. Hopefully it is to obtain money to care for the child in the best way. For the parents to say that the life is wrongful is the opposite of what a parent should do. People who would chose to abort a child with Down syndrome have a set of values that allow them to judge a life before it has even been brought to fruition. On the other hand, the parents may not be the only ones to blame. I don’t know much about Australia but perhaps the society, like in many other places, is not as accepting or accommodating to people with disabilities and the parents were just trying to make their lives easiest, which is not altogether blameworthy.

  16. After discussing this topic in class, it got me thinking a lot about the issue of wrongful life. To me, there is no specific disability or condition that constitutes a wrongful life. Some individuals with the condition may feel they have suffered in life and had a disadvantage but you cannot categorize a certain condition and say "those people are better off dead." With Trisomy 21, it is very difficult for some families but for others it may be a blessing. Honestly, all of the arguments about wrongful life scare me. Where do we draw the line? We cannot breed individuals like some sort of show dog. First it might be Trisomy 21, and then dyslexia, and then brunettes. With technologically quickly improving, the reality of this sort of breeding technology is not far away.

    In the case of Trisomy 21, I do believe that parents should have the right to get their prenatal child tested if they are concerned about the condition (specifically if the woman is of a certain age). However, I think the parents must specifically ask for this testing to be done and it should be done before the end of the first trimester. It saddens me to think that parents would not want a child with disabilities but some parents are not fit for this type of parenting.

    Both of my parents are special needs teachers so I grew up knowing the beauty and uniqueness that children with disabilities bring to our world. What really makes a person great? Is it their IQ or how fast they run? Or is it their heart and the sound of laughter? No human is perfect. Who are we to define what makes an individual great? A wrongful life does not exist, just as no perfect life exists either. We must remember this as the technology of procreation continues to advance and change the world.

  17. Certainly this case seems rather disturbing as parents are judging their childs life as wrong and we have established, that all lives are supposedly deemed equal.

    Nevertheless, a physician's duty is still, to contribute to the happiness of this couple, and by not performing cautious tests, is partly responsible for this situation. If this is using IVF for instance, because it is not necessarily a 'natural' way of making a child, we would expect certain tests to be taken. one can argue that the parents should have asked themselves if they were concerned and had a strong view on a "faulty" fetus, but a doctor's job as well, is to make sure that the pregnancy is going well and to check up on any abnormality that can occur thereby informing those involved.

    Needless to say, the parents view is wrong and shameful, but ultimately, it is their view and the doctor should have initiated a discussion regarding the possibility of problems with pregnancies in order to at least know their view about the issue.

  18. However disturbing this case may be to others. I can understand the parents frustration over not being given the full information regarding their pregnancies. The doctor must have been able to tell the children were going to be born with a disability through either ultra sound evaluations or through blood samples. Granted, if this issue was going to be such a big deal for the parents, they should have asked their doctors beforehand to test for certain chromosomal mutations such as Down's Syndrome. Had they done that and found out their children were going to be disabled, I do not see anything wrong with terminating the pregnancy as long as both parents saw eye to eye on the situation. Caring for a handicapped/disabled/sick child can be burdensome and have extremely negative consequences for unwanted children. Only certain kinds of people can put aside these constraints and prejudices and care for their children complaint free an unconditionally. I do not feel as though these are the types of parents that can do that, and for that reason I wish they had found out earlier so they could have done what they felt needed to be done. It puts more harm on the child, to have parents who ideally wish they had never been born. that is unfair and unjust. I don't think this case will go far. These parents knew the risks and should've taken the proper procedures to rectify the situation especially if they were not willing to take care of a disabled child.

  19. In the case presented above, wrongful life cannot and should not be applied. Though the economic and psychological injuries are factors to consider, they should not be the motivating claims as to why the parents are arguing wrongful life. Parenting comes with a certain amount of responsibility. Therefore, parents cannot expect to give birth to a child free of flaws; no child is perfect. Even if the doctor had pre-determined that the baby would not have Down syndrome, life in itself is a risk. Somewhere through the course of the child’s life, he could develop a developmental disorder or encounter an injury/illness that left him physically disabled. To discriminate on these children merely because they would be born with a developmental disorder is unfair. As parents, no matter the mental/physical status of their child they should attempt to provide the most nurturing and best environment they can to raise that child. In an argument of wrongful life: existence can be harm, yes, but only if the proper precautions are not taken and a nurturing home environment is not created. Some may see it as cruel to bring a child with disabilities into the world, but who are we to judge which life is more important than the next. Instead of arguing the principle of parental responsibility in support of wrongful life claims, why not take the concept of parental responsibility to love and care for a child with all the effort they can.

  20. Wrongful life is not applicable to this case. The only part that would possibly give the parents a chance in this case is where it says “ their doctors failed to diagnose their unborn babies as having Down”. More information would be needed to assess this situation. However, based on what we know, the claims that the parents are making are not reasonable. They willingly decided to become parents, and should love and cherish the children they were blessed to make, as any parent should. There are so many successful programs and treatments for people with Down syndrome today that can lead to these children having successful, and somewhat high functioning lives. I do not believe there is a morally acceptable reason for wrongful life claims because it is extremely difficult to draw a line defining what would and would not constitute one. However, if there was, I do not think Down syndrome would constitute a wrongful life because of the great possibility to lead a successful life. I think it is especially horrible for theses parents to still be feeling this way after their children were born. This will most definitely interfere with the child’s growth and development, potentially limiting their opportunities to the best life. A lack of love and support from parents could be detrimental to any child.

    -Erica Jordan

  21. The only way their should be a morally acceptable reason for a wrongful life claim is if the child would have been born with a terminal illness which would make the child have a shorten lifespan filled with pain and suffering. This does not apply to this case study. The children could live long happy lives. There is on an "inconvenience" factor for the parent's in raising the child. As stated every person should be treated with the same amount of respect and worth for their life. The worth of life should not be judged in any case and may be demeaning the lives of others who are currently living with this syndrome. A terminally ill child born and a child born with down syndrome are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to a wrongful life. Again, NO life is a wrongful life and should be thought of in that way. In the principles of beneficence to keep from doing the most harm and prevent the most pain and suffering then the wrongful life would be the child with terminal illness with a shorten life not the down syndrome child who has no pain and can live a healthy life.

  22. In this case, Rachel made an important point that it would be only the parents choice to terminate the pregnancy and take away the chance of life, and it is unethical that they were not completely informed of their situation.

    However, in response to the proposed question, does this case represent an acceptable reason for a wrongful life claim? In this case, no. A line must be drawn between wrongful and rightful. The line extending to wrongful is extremely short. Life is extremely valuable at all stages from birth to death, and very few circumstances allow for it to be considered wrongful. In this given case, with the prognosis of Down Syndrome, wrongful life would not have been a wrongful life claim. Given the unknowns of the situation, would the down syndrome have been severe or acute? From my knowledge, the severity of Down Syndrome can range from person to person, and it is not certain that the children will be greatly affected by the disease. Cases in which the lives of the individual and other people related to that individual are harmed to an extent, may it be possible that a wrongful life be potentially reasonable. In order to satisfy wrongful life conditions, the situation would have to be more than extreme, such as the case of Terry Schaivo, whom some considered to have a wrongful life as she was kept 'alive' under artificial machinery. These situations, are however, extremely rare, and even then, on the fence between wrongful and rightful depending on who is viewing the case.

    Concluding, such cases as those described above are arguably not a wrongful life, as conditions to satisfy those conditions must be extreme. However, in order to exercise autonomy, whether or not the decision to terminate a pregnancy is ethical or not, it is only just for the woman mother to assess her own situation and decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

  23. Disregarding for a moment the ethics of the parents’ decision, I am not sure that I understand why they sued their doctors. Why is it the doctors’ responsibility to know if their children have Down’s syndrome? I would think that they would have to request to have the test done before the babies were born, and if that is the case, I can’t imagine that they are going to win any of the money they are hoping for.

    In response to the questions posed, I can’t really think of any circumstances in which a wrongful life claim is morally acceptable. These parents are understandably disappointed by the fact that their children did not end up normal and healthy, but I would consider them extremely morally questionable if they find no worth in their children’s lives now that they have been born. From what little information is given by the article, I would hope that they are just upset and looking for a scapegoat. Perhaps the case is not an example of the “ongoing pogrom against babies with Down’s syndrome,” and the parents are not such terrible people as the rather dramatic author of the article (Pogrom? Really?) seems to want people to believe. Maybe they would have aborted the babies because they did not have the means to properly care for a child with special needs. There is too little information provided to really pass judgment. I do not believe in wrongful life, but I also won’t condemn these parents for being unhappy with their current circumstances.

    - Rachel Corrado

  24. Although I agree with many others who have commented that the actions of the parents were fraught with ethical distaste, I would like to propose a "line" of sorts, that can be drawn by parents in this situation.

    The line I propose drawing is one that draws off the basic philosophy of abortion. Though the child deserves life once conceived, if the parents are unable to support the child and feel like their and the child's quality of life will suffer substantially, then they may feel justified to abort the fetus.

    Though I find it hard to believe that having a child with down syndrome would substantially lower the quality of life of the parents (i.e. financially to support the disability) because they most likely have insurance that would cover the expenses, if they did not have the insurance this could potentially be a very costly disease that would significantly alter their and their unborn child's quality of life once he is born.

    -- Nick S.

  25. Wrongful life claims can be quite tricky. It seems to me that certain claims could be defensible. When a woman is pregnant and seeks competent medical care for term of the pregnancy then she has a reasonable expectation that the medical doctor will provide all necessary prenatal care. In addition to the mother's physical well being the woman also has a reasonable expectation that she will be provided with all necessary information so that she can make intelligent decisions regarding the pregnancy including termination if that is her choice. In our time pregnant woman can be screened for many types of abnormalities and it is only armed with knowledge that is the duty of her doctor to provide can she then make an informed decision abut what do to do with her body. As far as second hand smoke is concerned, as individuals we are well informed of the risks since it is common knowledge that second hand smoke kills. Therefore most reasonable adults can avoid this. Of course if one is exposed to second hand smoke in their workplace than avoidance can be much more complicated. In theory one can quit their job, however that is not very practical. The biggest difference in the two issues is that in the first case the woman was left in total ignorance through no fault of her own, while in the second case we do have advanced knowledge and therefore can make a informed decision.