21 July 2010

Couples sue doctors for failing to diagnose Down's Syndrome

Two couples in Victoria are suing their doctors for failing to diagnose Down's Syndrome antenatally. They argue that they are suffering 'psychiatric injury' and would have liked to have had the opportunity to terminate their pregnancies had they known about the diagnosis.

This is tricky. At the moment, we live in a time of unprecedented access to foetuses through technology. We are able to 'see' foetuses as early as a few weeks into a pregnancy, doctors can perform surgery on them and there are a slew of prenatal tests that can tell women if their foetuses have chronic ilnesses. Many women who participate in a medical model assume that doctors and technology are fail safe options when it comes to monitoring a pregnancy. But what happens when biomedicine gets it wrong? Or in this case a doctor may have failed to pick up Down's Syndrome? Is it fair that a couple can sue the doctor? Technology has become so sophisticated that we often forget that it is a person that actually has to diagnose and analyse tests results. Who's at fault here? The doctor for allegedly missing the diagnosis or the couples for getting pregnant 'alter in life' when the risk of having a child with Down's increases? What do you think?


Louise said...

I checked out the link. There are two different issues in the court cases: one that a doctor checking a foetus for down syndrome failed to diagnose it, and one that screening for down syndrome wasn't offered.

I'm 23 weeks pregnant and I have been offered down syndrome screening by *everyone* that I have seen during my pregnancy apart from the ultrasound technician. That is two GPs, one obstetrictian, and two midwives - five in a row. I wonder if their conscientiousness is because they are aware of these cases.

Personally my husband and I elected to not screen, as we couldn't ethically have an elective abortion, so it's a moot point. I've also got a cousin who has a child with down syndrome and it certainly doesn't seem like an awful thing for them - although I can see that it narrows the parents' choices significantly, and requires different coping skills. A child is already going to change my life, so a down syndrome child will just be a different (or perhaps more extreme) kind of change.

For the couple who specifically requested a medical professional to check for down syndrome and whose doctor mis-diagnosed, I can understand why they would want the doctor to be held responsible for the extra costs they incur in raising the child. I'm bothered by the notion of fault though. It seems to me that if you have a child it's not like buying a car - you get whatever you get given, and if you expect to be able to choose and control what you get, then you'll end up with a lot of extra grief in your life, or end up missing out on a lot of joy. Which is why I'm uncomfortable with the notion of aborting disabled children. I also think a lot of people grow up with some pretty awful prejudices against disability that are never adequately challenged (myself included), and these would lead them to abortion out of unnecessary fear... meaning the next generation have fewer opportunities to adequately challenge their irrational prejudices and fear around disability. A vicious downward spiral.

The Baby Bump Project said...

Great response to the issue of Down Sydrome being a 'burden' on parents here:


InfertileNaomi said...

Great post. Very difficult situation and I'm not sure what I'd do in that situation.

Are You Pregnant said...

Well, you would not believe the same thing is happening in India as well. yea, I am from India. There was this instance where the stupid doctor advised a pregnant lady that it is not a baby but a boil and gave wrong treatment leading to abortion. I hate such doctors with all my heart and soul. Could be irrelevant but I felt like saying it here. Take care!

Anonymous said...

I worked in a facility for the dually diagnosed. Yes, some Down syndrome children are great, but they are prone to mental illness. I was kicked, bitten and scratched on a daily basis by low functioning adults with Downs Syndrome. Of course their parents burdened the state with them when the condition proved too hard to handle. Thanks but no thanks. I would have been livid if my doctor dropped the ball on that one.

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