The Thinking 

Couple With Down Syndrome Child Wins Millions

March 14, 2012


AN Oregon jury’s decision last week to award nearly $3 million to a couple who sued for wrongful birth in connection with their daughter with Down Syndrome was not the first award of its kind but it was still a stunning development. How can a health clinic be blamed for the birth of a child with genetic abnormalities? Why should anyone be blamed for the birth of a child with genetic defects? Only in a world where infanticide is acceptable does such an action make sense.

The decision will mean that doctors in states where “wrongful birth” suits (yes, there is such a thing as wrongful birth) are permitted will apply even more pressure to pregnant women to have risky prenatal tests and to abort if there are abnormalities.

Ariel and Deborah Levy filed suit against a health clinic because a prenatal test did not pick up their daughter’s chromosomal anomalies. They said they would have aborted her if they had known she had Down Syndrome.

The practice of aborting Down Syndrome children is now widely accepted even though there are abundant services for children and adults with Down Syndrome and even though their most serious handicap is in cognitive abilities. The Levys were awarded millions for their daughter’s care when in many ways she will  cost them less than a normal child. She will never attend a college that costs more than $60,000 a year. She won’t need expensive music lessons or a fancy wedding. She also will receive money from Social Security when she is older.

There are also couples eager to adopt Down Syndrome children. So the claim that the Levys would have had to spend more is highly problematic, as is the idea that a clinically flawed and potentially expensive child does not deserve to live.


— Comments —

Mark L. writes:

There’s no question that raising a special needs child is more than challenging. It’s downright hard work. I know, because my wife and I have a lovable two-year old who is developmentally delayed. While he does not have Down Syndrome (DS), he is what used to be called mentally retarded, due to poorly developed myelination in his brain. As a result, signals are delayed in getting from the brain to the central nervous system, leaving him hypotonic, floppy and slow in his reactions. There is a chance that he may never walk … though we are working hard with local rehab services to help him progress to that point.

We are constantly told by the doctors and specialists – and indeed by our church family – to not put limits on his potential. And that’s very true. One never knows. And as for these tests, not only are they not 100% effective (hence the lawsuit), but even when they are they may not tell the whole story. A few years ago I was amazed to meet a young man with a very mild case of DS. I’d only ever seen the more extreme versions, but here was a man who is fully functional, can have an intelligent conversation with you, and holds down a full-time job in a hardware store. Talking with him leaves one with no doubt that he could eventually learn to drive, get married, raise a family, etc. One never knows.

And besides all this, even in the worst case scenario, such a child is almost inevitably seen as a gift from God – one that will teach us patience, compassion, gentleness, not to mention creativity and coping skills we never would have had to develop otherwise. At least that’s how I look at it in our (my) case, because these are qualities in which I’m quite deficient!

I can’t deny that the last two years have been stressful on my wife and I in a number of ways – including financially. Of course, you’re right to note that the economic burdens will be offset by other cost reductions. The trouble is, at the outset it can seem overly daunting – particularly in our atomized society where extended families and friends may not always be willing to help out. And who knows, maybe that’s the case for Mr. and Mrs. Levy.

But $3 million worth of compensation? Ridiculous. Under the worst- case scenario – and depending on their lifestyle expectations and how resourceful they are – the family will need a live-in nanny, and only for a few years at that. I doubt such an expense would ever even approach $100,000, much less $3 million. (And I think it’s reasonable to assume that very few people with such children have nannies.)

This case should have been thrown out of court at the outset. The doctors did the test. It did not prove effective in revealing DS, but surely the parents had been told early on that these things are not 100% reliable. Any discerning judge and jury would see these folks are just angry that they didn’t get the child they wanted. Well guess what? Neither did we. Neither have millions of other parents. And yes, we would still prefer things had gone differently. But that’s life. There are things you cannot always control. But from experience I can honestly say that these fairly mild types of birth defects always seem worse in the early stages than they do down the road, when the surprising benefits kick in.

I wouldn’t be surprised if even the Levy’s discovered this for themselves a few years hence. Wonder what they’ll do, though, with the money they have left over.

Fitzgerald writes:

“The Levys’ attorney, David K. Miller, said his clients deeply love their daughter but worried about being portrayed as heartless.”

My response: Boo fricken hoo. The selfishness and shallow stupidity of this is so outrageous I’m litteraly sputtering. This utopian nonsense is so irksome. What woud they have done, killed their child? So only now they love their chid, now that they are “unjustly” forced to endure raising her??? Somebody has to pay because they are victims??? Victims of what??? I want to throw my computer at the wall.

I have an 18-year-old son with a rare genetic disorder… Much more challenging than Down Syndrome, but not all. I have never asked for a single dime or attempted to play the victim card, EVER. For years I was involved with parent support groups for other parents with similarly afflicted children but quit out of disgust at the petty narcissism and victimology nakedly on display by too many of the “parents.” Just like children, they wanted someone else to blame because they were denied some storybook fairy tale family instead of embracing the outcome. Yes, my son can be difficult and he’s not normal, but the world is a better place because he was born.

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