March 1, 2012

We are talking about a Portland case that wrapped up recently. A jury awarded the plaintiffs $2.9 million in the unusual medical malpractice suit for “wrongful birth.” The plaintiffs were parents who had undergone prenatal screening and had been assured that their baby would not have Down syndrome. A week or so after their daughter was born, they were devastated to learn that she did have Down syndrome.

Legal and medical professionals say that wrongful birth claims are rare because advances in technology and testing, like the chorionic villus sampling test, have made detection of birth defects or abnormalities more accurate. Research has shown that almost 90 percent of women who learn that their baby has Down syndrome choose to terminate the pregnancy. The couple in this case would have done the same, if they had had the choice — if they had had the correct information.

They filed a medical malpractice claim against the health system and the lab that processed the CVS test. From the beginning, their attorney said the couple was concerned about providing their daughter with all the care she would need over her lifetime.

At trial, experts explained that the little girl, now 4, in unlikely to earn a living or to live on her own; she will need speech and physical therapy for many years; and she is at risk for a multitude of health problems associated with Down syndrome for the rest of her life.

Wrongful birth cases are also rare because of the controversy that comes with them. Admitting in court that you have terminated a pregnancy because of a chromosomal abnormality is neither easy nor popular. In fact, this family has received death threats, according to their attorney.

Health system representatives did not respond to reporters’ requests for comment. No information was available about a possible appeal.

Source: The Oregonian, “Jury awards nearly $3 million to Portland-area couple in ‘wrongful birth’ lawsuit against Legacy Health,” Aimee Green, March 9, 2012


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