Florida ‘wrongful birth’ award devalues child

By  Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Catholic News Service
  • August 1, 2007
{mosimage}WASHINGTON - A recent Florida court case in which a jury awarded $23.5 million as compensation for the “wrongful birth” of a child is the latest sign that “society is moving toward designer children” who are not valued if they are not perfect, an official of the Florida Catholic Conference said July 30.
“To call it a wrongful birth seems very odd,” said Sheila Hopkins, associate director for social concerns and Respect Life at the conference. “Anyone can have children who have challenges. ... Who are we to decide what’s a ‛wrong’ birth and what’s a ‛right’ birth?”

In a July 24 decision in Tampa, a jury gave Daniel and Amara Estrada $23.5 million for lifetime care of their two-year-old son, Caleb, and for their own pain and suffering. Like the Estradas’ first son, Aiden, Caleb was born with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, a metabolic disorder that affects many parts of the body.

{sidebar id=2}The couple said Dr. Boris Kousseff, a geneticist with the University of South Florida, failed to properly diagnose Aiden’s illness and assured the Estradas that their chance of conceiving a child with similar afflictions was the same as any other couple’s.

The Estradas said that if they had known the risk of a genetic disorder they might have decided to adopt. And once a child was conceived, they would have tested for Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome and would have aborted if the disorder had been found.

The jury attributed 10 per cent of the blame for the “wrongful birth” to Kousseff and 90 per cent to the University of South Florida. But because the university is a division of the state government, any payments over $200,000 in a lawsuit require the approval of the Florida Legislature.

Hopkins said the Catholic Church sees every child as “created in the image and likeness of God” and as a gift from God. “You don’t put a price tag on the value of human life,” she said.

Many parents find that special-needs children bring “a joyful presence in the family,” she said. But she said society as a whole and people individually have a responsibility to help the parents of special-needs children as they “love and care for these youngsters.”

Although Hopkins said she did not think the Florida Catholic Conference would oppose efforts to convince the Legislature to pay the state’s share of the $23.5 million, she said the Estradas might “find it difficult to get money from the state,” judging from past cases. For example, 19-year-old Minouche Noel, paralysed from the waist down after she underwent surgery as a six-month-old in a state-run medical program for low-income Floridians, only recently received approval from the Legislature for the $8.5 million awarded to her nearly eight years ago by a Broward County jury.

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