JERUSALEM, “Wrongful life” lawsuits, in which doctors are held liable for not discovering fetal abnormalities that might have prompted parents to abort their child, have become so common in Israel that the government has set up a committee to investigate the issue, New Scientist reports.
According to magazine, wrongful life claims are more prevalent in Israel where a higher rate of genetic disorders caused by consanguineous (connected by kinship) marriages has fueled a “pro-genetic testing culture.” The county has seen an estimated 600 wrongful cases since the first in 1987.
While similar lawsuits in the United States and Canada are often brought by the parents of disabled children, it is common in Israel for the children themselves to demand compensation for the fact that they were not killed in-utero.
Asaf Posner, a medical malpractice lawyer who sits on the government’s Matza committee which is charged with investigating the issue, has obtained judgments averaging around 4.5 million shekels (about $1 million U.S. Dollars) for clients with spina bifida and cystic fibrosis.
Posner defends the lawsuits, arguing that the medical profession would “become corrupt” without criticism.
Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, a medical ethicist at Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem, disagrees. Steinberg has criticized the lawsuits as psychologically damaging.
“I find it very difficult to understand how parents can go on the witness stand and tell their children ‘it would have been better for you not to have been born,” said Steinberg, who also sits on the Matza committee.
Steinberg claims that some malpractice lawyers are travelling to small communities around the country where inbreeding is more common in search of potential clients.
He also noted that the prevalence of such lawsuits has caused doctors to overstate the likelihood that an unborn child may have a disability, possibly driving an increase in the number of abortions.
“More testing means more false positives – and that means more abortions, because geneticists don’t always know if results indicating the possibility of chromosomal abnormalities are meaningful. I’d like to see a study of aborted fetuses to see how many are diseased,” he said.