Sunday, January 13, 2002

Alive & Well

Disabled children can sue doctors

        Last week, doctors in France went on a sort of strike. French gynecologists are refusing to perform ultrasounds on pregnant women, for fear of being sued.

        If you think what you just read didn't make sense, keep reading — because it gets weirder.

        The ultrasound strike by French gynecologists was provoked by a decision by France's highest appeals court a month ago that gives children the right to sue their mothers' doctors for allowing them, the children, to have been born. The rule applies to children with Down syndrome, sickle cell, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida or other conditions from birth that might have been detected by ultrasound.

        If mothers knew that the children were going to have disabilities, runs the logic of this decision, they might then have aborted them. If the doctors failed to notify the pregnant women of pending disability, the baby then has to right to sue the doctor for interfering with his or her right never to have been born.

        Already, a suit has been filed and won of a baby with Down syndrome against the doctor who didn't announce the possibility before birth. Three other cases of children with birth defects were similarly won, awarding the families huge sums of money and upholding the children's right “not to have been born.”

        So French doctors are refusing to do ultrasounds to avoid the risk of being held liable if a baby with a disability is born.

        Naturally, disability rights advocates are furious. Some are saying that the court decision is an insult to every family with a disabled child. It is, in fact, an insult to every person with a disability, stating clearly that life with disability is not life worth living.

        Where might this eerie step into the world of eugenics lead? The law's existence might prompt more parents to abort their babies who might have disabilities.

        Never mind that could mean ending the life of someone like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Beethoven, Thomas Edison or Helen Keller.

        No matter how hard he or she might be struggling to get on that pesky winter coat or make those Legos fit together properly or make her mouth work to say the words other kids say so easily, I can't imagine there are little kids — with or without disabilities — running around wishing they hadn't been born.

        So, it isn't really the children who are suing: it is their parents. And with each suit comes a two-part heartbreaking message that says to a child:

        • There may not be enough money in the world to pay me for having to put up with you.

        • And it would be better for all of us if you hadn't been born.

        Personally, I'd like to see some new legislation — in France, the U.S., or anywhere. Let's allow children whose parents think their kids are damaged goods to suethose same parents for being too dumb to recognize the gift of life.

        Sound silly? Of course it does. But there's nothing new in that.

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- KENDRICK: Disabled children can sue doctors
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