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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 11:49 GMT
Scan strike by French doctors
Ultrasound scan
Ultrasound is not 100% reliable in detecting problems
Gynaecologists in France are refusing to carry out ultrasound scans on pregnant women after a court found they could be liable should a disabled child be born.

The protest action could have an impact on thousands of women.

The groundbreaking ruling, upheld at the country's highest court of appeal in July, was widely described as establishing a child's right "not to be born".

A child with the genetic disorder Down's Syndrome successfully sued doctors because the condition had not been detected using ultrasound, and an abortion carried out.

More cases

This principle was upheld in a further three cases involving babies with birth defects.

Disabled campaigners and doctors responded furiously to this, describing it as an "incitement to eugenics".

Now, although they will continue to carry out scans on women already under their care, they will refuse to carry out ultrasound scans on any newly pregnant women.

We are talking about amazing amounts of money those children were awarded simply because they were born

Catherine Guilyardi, journalist
Aside from their ethical objections to the ruling, they maintain that the ultrasound scanning for disability is nowhere near 100% reliable, even when carried out correctly.

In the case of Down's syndrome, It relies on spotting telltale differences in the skin thickness on the neck of the developing foetus.

There are other tests available to doctors, but only the most invasive of these have a high detection rate - and carry an increased risk of miscarriage.

'Causal link'

Catherine Guilyardi, a French journalist, told the BBC that the government was preparing a law to offer protection to the gynaecologists.

She said: "They fear they could be held responsible for the birth of disabled children because they have already been held responsible in two court rulings.

"We are talking about amazing amounts of money those children were awarded simply because they were born."

She added: "This might continue until the government, which has promised a new law, brings the law in front of the parliament in this country."

France's highest appeal court, the Cour de Cassation, ruled that compensation should be awarded "as long as a causal link can be established with an error committed by a doctor."

No similar cases have as yet been brought in the UK.

See also:

03 Jan 02 | Europe
France's 'winter of discontent'
01 Apr 01 | C-D
Down's syndrome
28 Nov 01 | Europe
Down's child paid for being born
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