Magazine article Insight on the News

Sliding into Eugenics?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Sliding into Eugenics?

Article excerpt

Wrongful-birth lawsuits filed around the country raise tricky moral dilemmas: Ethicists fear that the promotion of eugenics could compromise doctors and children born with defects.

When Somerville, N.J., obstetrician James Delahunty met Deborah Campano in 1993, she was 21 weeks pregnant -- with a problem. There was a thickening of skin around the neck of her unborn son, a possible sign of Down's syndrome. Delahunty says he offered Campano an amniocentesis. She says he did not.

Five years and $1.85 million later, Delahunty found himself on the losing side of a "wrongful-birth" lawsuit, one of a growing number of such cases around the country. Advances in genetic testing mean that doctors can reveal nearly every feature of the unborn child -- from the color of eyes and hair to deformities. If the parents are unhappy with what's in the womb, they often choose abortion. Parents who claim they were not adequately informed about their children's problems are turning to the legal system with their complaints.

"Some women want to kill their children because they are handicapped" says Delahunty, founder of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "If genetic tests give them the wrong results, they blame the doctor. I was blamed."

Such lawsuits are directly contrary to national and state policies promoting the lives and livelihoods of people with disabilities, says Clark Forsythe, president of Chicago-based Americans United for Life. "What we're dealing with here is the promotion of eugenics as a birth policy whereby doctors are sued for not weeding out the `unfit.'" Twenty-seven states allow wrongful-birth lawsuits, but other states have ruled them invalid, most recently Michigan and Georgia.

The Georgia case concerned an Atlanta couple who sued their obstetrician for not conducting certain prenatal tests on their Down's syndrome child, born Sept. 15, 1995. Among those filing briefs in the case was the National Down Syndrome Congress, which asserts the parents' claim for damages "presupposes that the life of a child with Down syndrome is less valuable than no life at all"

Last month, Michigan upheld a 9-year-old ruling that wrongful-birth lawsuits have no ground in state law. In late June, an appeals court warned the logic of wrongful-birth lawsuits "could quickly slide into applied eugenics and the elimination of supposedly unfit human lives."

But this spring, New Jersey courts ruled differently. In March, a state superior court in Somerville awarded plaintiffs Campano, a systems analyst at AT&T, and her ex-husband, Michael Imbergamo, $1. …

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