Down syndrome does not equal defective

What would you do if, after nine months of pregnancy, you gave birth to a baby who unexpectedly had Down syndrome? For two Portland, Oregon parents, the answer is sue. That’s right: they’re suing the hospital because they say doctors didn’t diagnose their daughter while they were pregnant.

Doctors at Legacy Health told a local couple their unborn baby did not have Down syndrome, but now the hospital is facing a multimillion dollar lawsuit after the couple said they based a life-changing decision on wrong results.

The case is currently being heard in a Multnomah County courtroom.

According to court documents, the couple’s daughter is now four years old and does have Down syndrome, something, the parents say, will impact all of them for the rest of their lives. The girl’s parents are suing the hospital for $7 million, saying that’s the cost of a lifetime of care.

The parents say doctors “repeatedly advised” them that a test of their unborn baby “definitely ruled out Down syndrome” and even told them indicators that said otherwise were “not reliable.”

Based on those results the couple chose to continue the pregnancy and now call the doctors “negligent in their performance, analysis and reporting” of the test results.

Apparently, we are to presume that, had they known they were having a child with a disability, they would have aborted. Shockingly, they didn’t want their names released to be public, because of the potential backlash over such a controversial topic. One would think that if they know that there would be backlash over this lawsuit, they might also be able to realize how idiotic and wrong this lawsuit is.

This case is troubling on a number of levels. First, what is not mentioned is what type of screening was done. Most prenatal screenings are not diagnostic. They come back positive or negative, but all it really does is give you an idea of what the odds are that your child will have Down syndrome. Blood tests, soft markers seen on an ultrasound — these are not reliable. Then there are diagnostic tests, like an amniocentesis. But even those are not 100% accurate. Nothing in the medical profession ever is. There is always a chance that things won’t happen the way you expect them to. Sometimes, doctors are wrong. Tests come back with the wrong results. It happens. If patients sued every single time that something unexpected happened in the medical profession, we would have no doctors left.

The more disturbing aspect of this, though, is that insinuation that their child is somehow broken. Down syndrome is a disability. It doesn’t make your child defective. This child is four years old now. So for four years they’ve lived with the diagnosis, and have now decided that, what? She’s too much work and they need to be compensated for the hassle of having to raise a little girl who committed the crime of being born with an extra chromosome?

If this is their mindset, then they should have put her up for adoption. There are plenty of people (myself included) who would see their daughter as a beautiful child to love, and not as a bargaining chip to get money out of a hospital. What would they have done if their baby was born “normal” (so to speak), and then developed, say, cancer? Would they sue the pediatrician?

Part of being a parent means accepting the unknown, and loving your child no matter what. If they can’t give their daughter the unconditional love she deserves — which, by the way, doesn’t come with a price tag — then they don’t deserve to be parents.

Their entire argument consists of the fact that, had they known their four-year-old daughter had an extra chromosome, they wouldn’t have allowed her to live. How can a parent look at their child and then say, “if I had known you had a disability, I wouldn’t have let you live”?

The heartbreaking fact that 90% of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted is due to attitudes like those of these parents. Instead of choosing to love their child, they’re looking at their little girl as if she is a product they wish they could return.

The reality is that children with Down syndrome are not defective, they are not broken; they are blessings to be cherished, just like a “normal” child. Every life has value and meaning and beauty to it, regardless of how many chromosomes they possess.

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