Australian Court Rejects "Wrongful Life" Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 29, 2004
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA--Doctors are not responsible for the costs of caring for a child if they did not inform the parents that the child might be born with disabilities.
That was the conclusion Thursday by the Court of Appeal of New South Wales in a so-called "wrongful life" case.
The suit was filed by the parents of, and on behalf of, Alexia Harriton and Keeden Waller. Harriton is in her early twenties, and has disabilities because her mother acquired rubella during her pregnancy. Waller is 3 years old, and has intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and seizures because his father had a congenital blood deficiency known as antithrombin III (AT3).
The parents of both children claimed that they would have ended their pregnancies if they had known about their children's disabilities. They sued their doctors for "the harm they (the children) suffered by being born in their disabled condition" along with the "needs and expenses that each has had to and will incur".
By a 2-1 majority, the court rejected the parents' argument, noting that the doctors had not caused the children's disabilities in the first place. The court also said that putting the blame on doctors in such a case would send the wrong message about the sanctity of life.
In writing the court's decision, Chief Justice James Spigelman said the law did not recognize conduct which could have led to terminating a pregnancy. He said an action by a disabled child involves "an assertion by the child that it would be preferable if she or he had not been born".
Spigelman added that such claims do not "reflect values generally, or even widely, held in the community."
Several courts in North America and Europe have allowed parents to sue doctors for negligence in not disclosing that a child would or might be born with disabilities.
The Australian Medical Association applauded the decision, which upheld a lower court ruling.
Harriton's lawyer said they may take the appeal to the Supreme Court.
Related court case:
"Harriton v Stephens; Waller v James & Anor; Waller v Hoolahan" (New South Wales Court of Appeal)