Monday, June 15, 2009

What a burden: wrongful birth lawsuits

I was catching up on some blog posts from this weekend when I noticed a post over at Media dis&dat about Oregon parents who are suing over the cost of raising their child who has Down syndrome. They claim they would have aborted the baby had they known, but that tests failed to diagnose the condition and want $14 million.

The article states that there are fewer than ten such lawsuits a year, because of the awkward stance parents have to take in claiming that there was a wrongful birth and that the child is a burden. It also notes that some say, in order to preserve a right to damages from medical error, suing for "botched prenatal tests is no different than suing for botched knee surgery". The parents in this case are suing, among other things, for reimbursement from lost wages due to care issues as well as care for their daughter.

I am not going to comment directly on the couple involved in this lawsuit, but wish to discuss how our society responds to families with a member who has a disability. The reality is that there are a number of burdens involved here, but it's unfair to say that it's the child who is the burden.

Let's take a look at how our society fails to assist parents of children with disabilities. We offer prenatal testing and abortion, but we sure don't provide enough backup care or financial assistance.

The solution is not to have lawsuits where individual parents sue for 14 million dollars while a father has to sue Medicaid to provide diapers for his daughter - or faces having to institutionalize her .

Some disabilities are more expensive than others. This is a fact that has been swept under the carpet for years. We don't talk about it because we leave it up to individual families to somehow figure it all out, but as our country faces crises in health care, we need to address it swiftly and with a moral conscience. We also need to step up in our own communities to help each other. Government programs can't address every need these families face.

Those who value human life and believe in keeping families together need to consider questions such as these:

Are we going to continue to ignore the financial burden on families of having a child with a disability and therefore continue to label the child as a burden? What does that say about our belief that all human life is sacred?

When will we stop condoning the institutionalization of people with disabilities which separates family members and, although it is more expensive, has been part of our system for years? Does a child with a disability have less of a right to be part of a family out in the community?

When will we stop using a piecemeal approach to these issues through our legal and medical systems, resulting in large settlements for some and poverty for others?

How long can we continue to ignore our individual moral obligations toward families facing these issues in our communities? What can we do in our own parishes to assist these parents?

The important thing here is not to blame parents or the children, but to address their needs. That is our burden - together. Until we start doing that, we have no right to judge anyone.


imfunnytoo said...

It's the utilitarian, (in Europe) and the 'Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps (in America) mindsets that are allowing a perception (that should have been modified long long ago, that:

1. People with disabilities are burdens.

2. If the 'burden' reaches a tipping point, which varies by family or support system, institutionalize the burdensome thus moving them into the saddest deadliest category of all...

"Out of sight out of mind."

Wheelie Catholic said...

very true AND very sad. thanks for your comment.