Wrongful birth lawsuits: a troubling reflection of attitudes to disability

A couple are seeking half a million pounds in compensation from the legal team who advised them to drop a lawsuit against doctors who supposedly failed to warn them that their unborn child was at risk of carrying a serious disability. Paul Schumann and Joanne Chinnock say that they would have chosen an abortion had they known that their daughter had a 1 in 13 chance of a serious chromosomal disorder, but that doctors failed to give them full information.

This is plainly a very sad case. Ms Chinnock and Mr Schumann have endured many years of heartache and suffering, and their relationship broke down. It is right, of course, that we should do all we can to help the parents of children with disabilities, whether that means financial support or medical facilities or respite care. Often this money can only be obtained through legal action. But at the same time there is something rather unsettling about this lawsuit. The very concept of “wrongful birth” – the claim that it was a mistake not to end an individual life because the individual had a serious disability – strikes right at the heart of our ideas of equality, diversity and non-discrimination.

There are much better ways to respond to the challenge of disability than simply targeting the carriers of disabilities before they even have a chance to be born. Tragic cases such as this are just one consequence of our decision to reject and ignore the value of unborn life.

Our daughter charity the Zoe’s Place Trust provides three hospices for severely disabled children aged 0-5. We believe that this is the best model for the future of caring for children with such conditions.

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