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Friday, 17 November, 2000, 22:29 GMT
Boy compensated for being born
Ultra sound scan
The couple say they would have considered abortion
A severely disabled French boy has won a landmark case against medical authorities for allowing him to be born rather than aborted.

Nicolas Perruche was born deaf, part-blind and with mental disabilities in 1983 after a doctor and a medical laboratory failed to realise that his mother had caught rubella, also called German measles, during her pregnancy.

Mistakes committed by the doctors and the laboratory prevented (Mrs Perruche) from exercising her choice to end the pregnancy

Cour de Cassation decision
His parents, Josette and Christian Perruche, said the failure to diagnose the disease damaged their child in the womb and stopped them from opting for abortion.

The courts had already decided doctors were at fault. Medical staff incorrectly believed that she had already been immunised against rubella.

Now the parents have won a fresh appeal for compensation on the grounds that doctors and the medical laboratory should have prevented the birth.

Moral question

The Cour de Cassation said in its decision: "Since mistakes committed by the doctors and the laboratory while carrying out their contract with Mrs Perruche prevented her from exercising her choice to end the pregnancy to avoid the birth of a handicapped child, the latter can ask for compensation for damages resulting from this handicap."

To be alive cannot be regarded as the result of a fault

Families campaigner Catherine Fabre

Our correspondent James Coomerasamy says that while few criticise their desire to ensure their son has adequate financial help, many in France are concerened about the moral questions which the case has raised.

"Would my son really have wanted to live if he'd known he had all these disabilities?" asked Christian. "That's the question I'm posing."

Before Friday's ruling, Catherine Fabre, who is with the Federation of French Families, said: "It is terrible for those people to have to face those sort of problems but we cannot approve the idea of claiming for compensation for being alive.

Serious consequences

"First, you never know what the life of this little boy is and, second, to be alive cannot be regarded as the result of a fault, whatever it is," Ms Fabre said

The medical profession has also been watching the case with great concern.

Segolene Ayme, a geneticist who works closely with couples with congenital illnesses, said before the verdict was announced that a victory for the couple could have serious consequences.

"This will push my colleagues to decide more often to terminate pregnancies when they are unsure about the health status of the child. And this is a very common situation," she said.

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