Melbourne couples sue over Down syndrome births

Two Melbourne couples are suing hospitals because doctors failed to diagnose Down Syndrome in their unborn children, thus denying them the choice to have an abortion.

In the first case, at Royal Women’s Hospital, a four-year-old girl has heart, kidney and thyroid problems, needs help to eat and cannot talk. The parents want compensation for their trauma and specialist care costs.

In the second, at Sunshine Hospital, the parents complain that doctors failed to "exercise reasonable care" of the mother, "advise (her) in relation to the risks of Down syndrome given her age" and "provide (her) with the option of ante-natal screening. "In the event that Down Syndrome had been detected, (she) would have elected to undergo a termination of her pregnancy," say documents presented to the court. The parents claim to have suffered "depression, shock and anxiety" and "pain and suffering during pregnancy and delivery".

In the Australian state of Victoria, parents are able to sue for compensation to cover the costs of raising a child until they are 18 if the child was born as a result of negligent care.

Wrongful birth lawsuits are uncommon in Australia, but not unprecedented. In 2003 the Australian High Court's found, in Cattanach v Melchior, that parents could claim damages for raising an unplanned child. However, in 2006 the High Court rejected two claims for “wrongful life” by disabled children whose lawyers argued that they would be better off had they never been born. “Life with disabilities, like life, is not actionable,” the court declared. ~ ABC, July 21; Herald-Sun, July 21; Medical Journal of Australia 2006

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