Monday, March 12, 2012

The "Wrongful Birth" Lawsuit

The media is a-buzz with the latest "can-you-believe-it?!" lawsuit. Ariel and Deborah Levy of Portland, Oregon sued Legacy Health System because their doctor botched a test for Down's Syndrome and told them the girl was "normal" when she actually had Down's. The couple say they would have terminated the little girl if they had known, but because the doctor messed up, they are now supposedly saddled with the enormous and expensive burden of caring for the child and not by their own choosing. The Levys sued for $7 million dollars to cover the lifetime expenses of care for their daughter and have been awarded $2.9 million. Besides the fact that I find termination of a pregnancy because of a birth defect morally repugnant to me personally, there are a couple of other problems I have with this case:

  • I have seen plenty of articles bemoaning how some people (like the Levys) simply can't afford to take care of a special needs child. I know from personal experience that where there's a will, there's a way. I've heard of people who take out second mortgages, get second jobs, churches that hold fundraisers, whatever they have to do to pay for treatment of their kid. Furthermore, the Levys' daughter is probably receiving Supplemental Security Income payments from Social Security and is probably on Medicaid because of her disability. In fact, the Levys' daughter probably would have gotten money more quickly than some other disabled kids since Down's Syndrome qualifies for immediate payments. And if your child qualifies for SSI, they qualify for Medicaid too.
  • But not everyone wants to raise a special needs child. And because of the doctor's negligence, the Levys were not afforded that option, wails the media. Well, nothing was stopping them from placing the little girl for adoption- except maybe their own fears that family and friends would think less of them. But if they choose to value others' opinions over their own feelings and desires, that's no one's fault but their own. People can and do place special needs kids for adoption and other people can and do adopt them. The doctor screwed up royally- there's no denying that and for damages relating to the actual birth of the child and emotional distress the couple should sue for negligence. But it isn't the doctor's or the hospital's fault that they decided to keep the baby and there by become financially responsible for her.
If you want to really feel sorry for someone who is having financial troubles supporting a special needs child, take a look at parents of autistic kids or kids with a "mystery" syndrome.  Parents of autistic kids are often on long wait lists for Medicaid waivers and some waivers only cover severe autism. They may or may not qualify for SSI. And if you can't get a diagnosis, it's even more difficult to get help.

This is a question of personal responsibility on the part of the Levys. If they don't want to raise their daughter, fine. Place her for adoption. If they want to raise her, fine. Suck it up and embrace the challenges. But don't expect those of us who are successfully raising a special needs child without a $2.9 million lawsuit to feel sorry for you.

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