Yorba Linda, Calif.: The basic fact pattern underlying this wrongful-birth suit will be familiar to longtime readers of this site (Aug. 22-23, 2001, Jul. 1, 2003, etc.): little Leilani Duff’s parents say they love her, but also say they’d have aborted her if they’d realized she was at risk of spina bifida, so they’re suing their obstetrician, Dr. William Dieterich, for unspecified damages. (Claire Luna, “If Only We’d Known, Parents Say”, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 9). The L.A. Times’s account includes the following comment about the incentives this burgeoning field of litigation may be sending to doctors practicing in the field:
The rise in wrongful-life suits and the threat of legal responsibility for a child’s defects puts obstetricians in the uncomfortable position of recommending, if not insisting on, abortion when there is the slightest doubt, said one physician.
“On one side you have a liability mess that puts you on the hook for the rest of the child’s life,” said Dr. T. Murphy Goodwin, chief of maternal-fetal medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine [and also, as the article notes, a member of the American Assn. of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists].
“The other side, you have carte blanche to avoid the potential for these kinds of problems by shading the discussion to advocate abortion. There’s almost no adverse reaction if a doctor tells someone to terminate a pregnancy based on faulty information.”