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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Would Stephen Hawking have been aborted had his condition been known?
Disabled doesn't mean worthless.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
£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.
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.
This sounds like great news for lawyers and bad news for the French health services.
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.
10 Jan 02 | Europe
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