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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Should we kill?

In my humble opinion, this is a sentence that should never come out of a doctor's mouth:

"I'm sorry, your baby will be born with [insert birth defect or illness here]; would you like to have it aborted?"

I know that there are most likely thousands of medical malpractice suits filed each year. [About 85,000 annually according to this report] What I did not know is that a portion of them fall into the category of Wrongful Birth.

A variety of Internet sites agree in principle that in a wrongful birth action, parents seek damages for a child born with birth defects. The claim for damages is based on the cost to parents of raising an unexpectedly defective child. There is also a companion suit known as Wrongful Life. In a wrongful life action, the child seeks damages for being born with a birth defect rather than not being born.

Let me preface my forthcoming remarks with the statement that I can in no way imagine the anguish a parent undergoes when they are faced with a newborn that will require extraordinary care. My wife and I were blessed with two healthy sons. As I suspect all parents do, we worried if anything would be wrong with our kids. My wife had amniocentesis tests during both pregnancies. And although there were a couple of things that showed up that could have had the potential of manifesting as what we would call abnormal traits, we ended up with two generally healthy - normal - boys.

The article that started me thinking about this aired on NPR this morning.

The segment highlighted Sharon and Steven Hoffman's son, Jake, who was born with Tay-Sachs, a genetic disease that mainly affects Jewish families and is usually fatal by age 4 or 5.

"There's no treatment. There's no cure. There's nothing," Sharon says.

She says her doctor did not test for the disease. At six months, Jake was diagnosed with it. The couple says he lost control of his muscles and had constant seizures. He died two years later before reaching his third birthday. Sharon says she would have had an abortion if she had known.

"There is no quality of life," Sharon says. "The only thing that you would be bringing this child into the world to do is to suffer. And die."

[Previous four (4) paragraphs quoted from this NPR report]

Again, let me state that I have no idea how I would react if I had been in Mr. Hoffman's shoes.

In a veritable whirlwind of emotional upheaval, there are two main issues here:

  1. Who is at fault (i.e. guilty) for a child born with serious birth defects?
  2. Can we actually take a step that requires killing a child and call it mercy?

                                                        Is justice blind?

In principle, I see clear cut cases where a trained, medical professional can screw up and directly cause something harmful to happen to a child before he or she is born. I can totally understand parents taking doctors, hospitals, etc. to task for these instances.

But what about a child that, through no fault of anyone, has a birth defect? Is it fair to sue the doctor or hospital merely because a specific test wasn't run? How many parents have sat in a medical facility and said, "Is that test really necessary?" out of concern for the mother's health or maybe for financial reasons due to limitations in health care coverage.

Are we really saying that we humans should have the power of life and death over another human if that person does not meet our standard of normal? Can we blame this on advances in medical science that give us nearly unlimited ability to diagnose fetal health? Or more accurately, the failure to employ such advances in all cases?

And that brings us to the real question we should ask ourselves: do we understand the concept of life well enough to make that decision?

What do you think?



  1. This is one of those topics that surely make the mind wander!

    On the one hand, I have to consider just who that aborted child might have become had he/she been allowed to be born? A chemical genius who could help solve our foreign oil dependency or someone with the perfect idea of how to build a better mouse trap! Conversely, who might I have become if that child had been allowed to be born? Could that child have gotten me to the point where I could better see how children like this are cared for and thereby reduce the anguish a new parent who has a child born in a similar way?
    The Chinese have their unique ways as well; when a baby is born and it isn’t the boy they had hoped for, they just leave the child on the street (many times in the street) where people have become so amaurotic to seeing these babies that they just walk on by.

    I recently saw the movie, Courageous where four men pledge to raise their children in a God honoring way. The main character in the movie, Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick) loses his daughter in a car accident and he struggles with his faith because of it. He seeks the counsel of his church pastor who asks Adam if he should be mad about all the time he’ll miss with his daughter or be joyful in the time he did have with her. A good question if you ask me.
    Like you, Mike, I too have been ever so blessed with healthy kids who were born with no real ‘defects’ as we call them but if they had, I can only hope that I would do the same thing I’m sure you would have and that is trust in God to help us make the best of that situation.

    Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

    I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
    Phil 4:11-13 (KJV)

  2. Thank you for the thoughtful comments; especially the passage from Philippians, it's one of my favorites.


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