What is a Wrongful Birth?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2018
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Wrongful birth refers to a civil action in the area of medical malpractice. A case may be based on one of two issues. In one instance, parents may sue a medical professional whose improper care for a pregnant woman leads to her giving birth to a child with birth defects. The second set of circumstances may involve parents whose unborn child has birth defects and the parents are not informed, thereby denying them the opportunity to abort the child. When parents successfully win such cases, damages are usually awarded to compensate for the care of the child.

Medical malpractice cases usually require the plaintiff to prove that a professional relationship existed and due to negligence, harm occurred. There are some parents who argue that if they had been informed that their child would be born with birth defects, they may have opted to terminate the pregnancy. The fact that they were not informed was negligent. Being forced to live with a child or care for a child who was born with defects is considered to be the resulting harm. These are known as wrongful birth cases.


The prevalence and effectiveness of genetic testing in modern medicine can decrease the defense that a medical provider has against such claims. A case based on the fact that parents are living with a child who has defects would likely not be viable, however, if it occurs in an area where abortion is not legal. This is because even if the parents were informed, there would be no legal option to get rid of the child, so the doctor’s negligence would not result in any harm.

In the United States, the history of such cases is believed to be based on one that was decided in 1975 in Texas. In Jacobs v. Theimer, a mother’s bout of rubella and a doctor’s failure to diagnose it led to birth defects in the baby. This provides precedent for cases to be brought under circumstances in which a medical professional’s improper care results in a child being born with birth defects.

Wrongful birth is generally a civil action. The aim of people suing for this cause is usually to seek compensatory damages, such as money to care for the child. Other types of damages, such as pain and suffering, have often been denied.

Even if abortion is legal, wrongful birth cases are not an option in all jurisdictions. In some places, such cases are expressly prohibited. This is likely due to the fact that there are many people who believe that allowing them is unethical and immoral. There are also concerns that such cases could have potentially negative effects, such as doctors excessively diagnosing babies as having birth defects.


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