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An Indian Court recently awarded 50,000 rupees damages to a couple who gave birth to their fourth daughter. The couple were mistakenly told they were carrying a male fetus. The doctor mistook a section of the umbilical cord for a penis. The husband said: “We are already struggling to raise three children. This was a big sacrifice for us to have a fourth child. We would have had an abortion if we had known it was a girl”. The cost of damages amounted to the dowry they would have to pay at the time of their daughter’s marriage.
This is a fictional case. But the cases of Nicholas Perruche and Lionel1 are not fictional. According to reports, damages were paid to these children on the basis of what the media has described as a “right not to be born”. Is there a “right not to be born?” Was it right to compensate Nicholas Perruche for being born with congenital rubella and Lionel for being born with Down’s syndrome?
HARM TO THE CHILD
What constitutes a right is a complex question. On one interpretation, rights protect interests. This implies that a right not to be born would exist if a child had an interest in not being born. Is it ever in a child’s interests not to have been born? If it were, this might imply the child is better off dead than alive, as the Collective against Handiphobia claim. Is it better to be dead than have Down’s syndrome?
Some people do believe that Down’s syndrome constitutes a life not worth living.2 But this view seems false. Children with Down’s syndrome can and often do lead happy and worthwhile lives. After all, we do not suggest that other (non-human) animals have a right not to be born or a life not worth …
Reproduced in full with permission from J Med Ethics 2002;28:65–67