Currently, wrongful birth lawsuits are used by parents against doctors for failing to warn them of possible health hazards to their future child. Like most malpractice lawsuits, they go for extremely high amounts of money and are high-profile.
As an antinatalist and anti-childist, I cannot but approve of such lawsuits. Doctors who fail to warn parents of problems with the fetus, which leads to the birth of a compromised child, should be condemned by society. But I also think that they are not taken nearly far enough. The interests of the parents are considered to be the most important here. But what about the interests of the child, now born, living a half-life of suffering or deficiency? Who are we supposed to feel worse about, the parents, who are presumably healthy and not living a life of suffering, or the child, who never asked to be born?
But this is not solely an emotional issue. If you believe that children have the right to the highest possible standard of health, and you must believe this if you are to believe that we have any right to health as an adult, then the responsibility of parents in this case is a legal one. If a child is born with physical or mental defects which ensure that it cannot attain the highest possible standard of health, then its rights are infringed upon. Who is doing the infringing? Ultimately, the parents, who dragged it into this world. Obviously in some cases the doctor is partially responsible. But in all cases, the actions necessary to bring about a new life rests with the parents.
I foresee a few objections. Some of them are trivial, like the perpetual “everyone has bad things happen to them in their lives, get over it” macho boasting (I have discussed other rationalizations here), which does nothing to address the argument I’ve presented and is therefore irrelevant. But what if the parents do not know that the child’s health will be compromised? Can we really hold them responsible for giving birth to it?
Parents are aware, or should reasonably be aware, of the fact that giving birth to a child means taking the risk that this child will be born with compromised health. It is common knowledge that this sort of thing happens. Many parents may live in a bubble of delusion (Not My Child syndrome), but delusion does not divest you of responsibility. You may delude yourself into believing that you can drive at any speed without risk, but the accident that may result will still be your responsibility. If a parent has a child and that child turns out to be disabled in some way, the birth should be considered to be the legal equivalent of inflicting that same disability on an already existing child, which is to say, battery or assault. If the child dies, then the parents should be considered guilty of manslaughter.
This may seem rather harsh, especially compared to the cases involving doctors, which only involve monetary compensation. But the doctors are only guilty of malpractice, in that they failed to inform their patients of an important health issue. The doctor did not cause the child to be born with a disability, they merely didn’t prevent it from happening, which makes them a huge asshole but doesn’t qualify as assault. At best we could say that the malpractice, if present, mitigates the parents’ crime.
Another objection may be that the parents do not inflict the disability on their child themselves, that it’s a by-product of nature. But we do not use such excuses in similar cases. Giving someone AIDS without their consent is considered a crime (often a felony) in most countries of the Western world. And yet children born with HIV get no recourse later in life. There is a profound hypocrisy in a statement like that. The fact that there is some distance between the parents’ decision to have a child which could be compromised and the actual compromising is no more an excuse than the fact that you can poison someone instead of just punching them. Poisoning someone takes longer and is mediated by their biology, while punching someone is not, but both are criminal acts.