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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 16:57 GMT
The 'right not to be born': your views
The French Parliament has voted to overturn a controversial legal ruling that would allow disabled children to be compensated for being born.

The issue was first raised in November 2000, when France's highest court awarded damages to a teenage boy born with severe mental and physical disabilities.

His mother contracted rubella while she was pregnant, and argued that she would have had an abortion if the disease had been correctly diagnosed.

Since then, two similar rulings involving children with Down's syndrome have sparked protest from France's disabled community and the medical profession.

People born with disabilities say the decisions devalue their lives, whilst doctors say they're under increasing pressure to advise abortions, even if there's only minimal concern.

What do you think about the "right not to be born"?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Just how far do we want to go down this daft road?

Chris B, England
Paying compensation to someone because they didn't want to be born is the most ridiculous piece of irony that I've ever heard. Before we know it, we'll be trying to pay compensation to people who don't exist, just in case they might have wanted to be born. Just how far do we want to go down this daft road?
Chris B, England

Everybody lives with some degree of "non-perfectness". The problem with any ruling of this kind is not only that it is at once ludicrous but where and when do you draw the line between a "healthy" and a "disabled" baby? If a baby is born with an "imperfection" that will render them subject to bullying and therefore mental distress is this a reason for that child to claim compensation for being born? I truly cannot believe that the world has come to this. All doctors can do is advise parents on the state of health that they perceive (from fairly limited information) the baby will be born with. If they fail to spot a disability, it's not the same as finding a bad orange in the bag after you have left the shop. There's no going back for a refund, and there never should be.

I believe that parents should have the right to choose whether or not to abort whatever their reasons, but if they choose to have a baby then that choice is made, fixed, and any disability or "imperfection" the child may have is accepted as part of the whole beautiful package. Parents of disabled children need to receive far more in benefits and counselling in order to help the whole family live a happy and fulfilling life.
Alison, UK

I think this is a very dangerous concept

Carole, UK
How can we determine this "right not to be born"? Where does it start and where does it end? I think this is a very dangerous concept, very close to Hitler's idea of the perfect human being. Anyone who does not fit the model would not have the right to be born and therefore to live... Disabled children are just as lovable as healthy ones and have the same rights to be born.
Carole, UK

I know that bringing up a mentally disabled child is a terrible double-edged sword. The pain it causes the parents is immense, just as the child gives them joy. My relatives tell me that if they had the chance they would have aborted the child (they had tested for Down's syndrome but the test failed), but now he is born they love him more than anything. It's an awful thing for a prenatal test to fail but as long as the diagnostic procedures were followed to a prescribed standard the parents shouldn't be able to seek compensation - someone having a child should realise that there will always be risks.
Richard N, UK

What next? Money for being born a woman? Or would that be classed as sexist? Does this mean the introduction of pregnancy insurance? And I bet women expecting girls will pay less than those expecting boys.
Andy, Wales

Do the French really think so little of those of us who are unfortunate enough to be born with defects? Would a disabled child bring less joy and happiness? They are people too.
Amy, Ireland

Linda, Canada - There are countless tragic stories of parents with "normal" children killing themselves and their offspring, not just those with disabilities. There are many children out there without disabilities that are hugely problematic for their parents as in the case you have described. Should we forecast this while the child is in the womb and abort them too for what they may become? I don't think so. The disabled can have a great quality of life and hugely enrich those around them.
Sarah, England

Procreation is foremost concerned with giving offspring the best possible chance for survival and quality of life

Linda, Canada
Last week in Canada, parents of a severely disabled 35-year-old committed murder and suicide and three people are dead. They could no longer emotionally or financially cope with caring for their son. This leads me to question myself; would I in all honesty knowingly bring into the world a new life that does not have the best potential for success? The answer is no. Our ability to act with informed reason and responsibility is what separates us from animals. The egos of some people seem to supersede common sense. Surely procreation is foremost concerned with giving offspring the best possible chance for survival and quality of life?
Linda, Canada

I have cerebral palsy - do I have the right not to be born?

Jane, England
I weighed 2lb 4oz when I was born forty-one years ago; I was 12 weeks premature. I have cerebral palsy. So do I have the right not to be born? Not to be loved by my parents and brothers, nor to give them my love? Not to get my university degree? Not to share life and love my husband? Until there is sufficient support and information for parents whose children live with disabilities, ignorance and fear in the able-bodied community will be stronger than common sense. I applaud the new French ruling, but I deplore the automatic lack of support that produced the original judgment.
Jane, England

If a child is born and through an act of God is disabled, then no compensation can be sought. If however someone facilitates the disability through accident, incompetence, or malice, then a case can be justifiably made. I suggest this includes the child suing the mother because she smoked, drank alcohol, or took drugs during the pregnancy!
Martin, UK

Claiming compensation for bearing a disabled child is repugnant and demeaning

Maria, Ireland
I can understand that a disabled child is probably every parent's worst nightmare but we live in societies that do not allow abandoned babies to die in the streets. Any parents who find themselves with a child they do not want do not have to care for it, emotionally or financially. They can simply hand it over and walk away. The idea of claiming compensation simply for bearing a disabled child is repugnant and demeaning in the extreme to anyone with any kind of infirmity. The French judiciary holding the medical profession culpable for a disabled child making it as far as the delivery room is disturbing and outrageous. It can only result in a climate where a doctor will feel little choice but to recommend an abortion if there is even the slightest chance of anything being wrong. What little regard for life!
Maria, Ireland

Most parents and children in that position would have preferred for that child not to be born

Meg, UK
Anyone who states that a disabled child brings just as much joy as a healthy "normal" child needs to think just how much joy they would get out of a child that is totally unable to walk, talk, be continent, has terrible dietary allergies, and has the most terrible tantrums due to the pain that child endures 24 hours a day. Then they need to think how full of joy they would be to have had that child, when they are on duty with that child 24 hours a day because they do love that child, and do not want to subject that child to institutional care, but it isn't safe to leave that child with someone else. Perhaps, if they could bring themselves to understand that scenario, then they might understand that if the disability was glaringly obvious during scans, most parents and children in that position would have preferred for that child not to be born.
Meg, UK

My sister had a disabled daughter and she brought us so much joy and happiness during her short life that it's hard to imagine life without her. I miss her every day of my life and I wish that she were still with us... We have to change public opinion about disabled people - too many think that they are a burden on society but if you open your eyes, they will teach you so much.
Claire, UK

What next? Litigation against God?

Matt, UK
What next? Disabled people suing their parents for having sperm or ovaries that are not perfect? Or perhaps litigation against God?
Matt, UK

I don't understand why these children were compensated. Usually, a victim is only compensated if someone causes harm to him. The doctors in these cases apparently didn't cause the children's disabilities. Nature was the culprit. So why were the doctors forced to compensate those children? I thought the US was often outrageous, but I guess we don't have a monopoly on legal foolishness.
John Litwinski, Boston, Mass., USA

Would Stephen Hawking have been aborted had his condition been known? Disabled doesn't mean worthless.
GC, England

No one ever asked to be born, but oblivion is singularly uninteresting in comparison

Sascha, New York, US
Absolutely! Not only should we be compensating people who are born disabled, but think of all the other people deserving of compensation. People chronically depressed deserve similar monetary balm. Blondes have more fun: people should therefore be compensated if they are born redheaded or brunette. Life is rarely fair, but life is the most precious gift bestowed in this world. Is money really the solution? No one ever asked to be born, but everyone should be grateful for the opportunity. Oblivion is singularly uninteresting in comparison.

New York, US

How can a "mother" publicly argue that she would have aborted her unborn son if only she had known he wasn't perfect? That's awfully cold. The disabled may not have been given impeccably functioning bodies or minds, but they are nevertheless people too. Who are we to decide who lives and dies based on standards of perfection? Are we that perfect ourselves?
Faye, US

Life is a lottery at the best of times. Any attempt to reproduce is fraught with hazard from conception until the child reaches his or her majority, when theoretically, the parents have no further obligation to them. Some defects can be detected before birth, but even so, the mother should have the right to consider whether to proceed with the pregnancy or not.
Hazel, UK

The court is saying that Stephen Hawking would have been aborted before birth, while serial killer Fred West should have been welcomed with open arms!

Simon Gray, UK
How terrible of the French court to imply that the value of the life of a disabled person is less than that of an able-bodied person! Who has the right to determine that a disabled person is less valuable than someone who has no disability? The French court is saying in essence that someone like Professor Stephen Hawking, who has an inherited degenerative disease, should have been aborted before birth, while serial killer Fred West should have been welcomed with open arms!
Simon Gray, UK

Am I the only one who finds the phrase "the right not to be born" very strange and rather sick? This issue has nothing to do with foetus' rights and everything to do with parents' rights. "The right to have perfect designer babies" would be more appropriate, I think.
Hugh, UK

As a woman who's suffered three miscarriages I find it difficult to understand why anybody would choose to have an abortion. I know only too well the grief one suffers when an unborn baby is snatched away. I can't believe a handicapped child would bring less joy than a healthy child.
Christine, UK

It seems to me that we the public have got embroiled in such a blame culture that we cannot see genuine accidents for what they are.
Gerry, Scotland

I think many parents seeking compensation are simply trying to meet the costs of caring for their disabled child. Properly funded free care services might solve this controversy.
Ben Drake, York, UK

2.5-3m awards for brain-damaged babies are regularly allowed in the UK. As Mr Drake rightly says, the majority of these awards are to pay for care and are against the NHS and therefore the taxpayer. However, there are vastly more brain-damaged and disabled children whose conditions were not caused by human error who have to rely upon state provision of care, state benefits and charity. This is grossly unjust but the country simply cannot afford to provide individual care packages for every disabled child or adult. Nevertheless, society seems to think that compensation culture is the answer.

If we are unfortunate enough to have physical ailments we must just learn to live with them

Shaun, UK
This is a very contentious issue. Are we saying that disabled people are of less value and importance than healthy people? Nobody ever gets the choice to be born, that decision is always made for us by our parents. People ought to think long and hard about this. Whilst we all hope for normal healthy children, many are born with disabilities and infirmities. We all have a right to life and if we are unfortunate enough to have physical ailments we must just learn to live with them, not expect some monetary compensation for our misfortune.
Shaun, Teignmouth UK

If the French government does not act to reverse these unfortunate rulings, then doctors will advise abortion for the slightest of risks. Many people forget that Nature still does have a hand to play in one's destiny. The medical profession should be protected from such claims for we do not want the doctors to be under extreme and uncalled for pressure when deciding on the course of action on each case. We have a friend who has a Down's syndrome child and believe me, the child is full of life and is so loving that I cannot imagine the parents living without him. Given the choice my friend would never give him up. Everyone has a right of life and that would not be possible without being born.
Arif Sayed, Dubai, UAE

This sounds like great news for lawyers and bad news for the French health services.
Andrew Cover, UK

Andrew Cover is right, but it is also bad news for anyone who is willing to bring a child into the world and accept him or her regardless of his or her physical condition. It is also bad news for those whose lives are likely to be taken from them before they've even been born. The pressure to detect and abort any child with defects will be immense.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | Europe
Down's child paid for being born
01 Apr 01 | C-D
Down's syndrome
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