The NHS Litigation Authority has paid £70m in compensation to parents of disabled babies who argue they would have had abortions had they known about their child’s disability before birth.
Under current UK law, the termination of an unborn child is permitted up to birth if it can be shown that they have a severe disability. While a campaign is underway to bring this regulation in line with modern view on disability and equality, the revelation made to the Sunday Times indicates that over the past five years, a number of payments have been made for what has been legally termed “wrongful birth”.
The payouts include £40m of damages made in respect of 16 cases of failed antenatal screening, as well as payments for failure to properly interpret ultrasound scans and X-rays, £6.2m for delayed diagnosis and £5.8m for incorrect diagnosis.
Such claims are made for babies which are revealed as having a wide range of disabilities, including Down’s syndrome, and many equality campaigners argue that the current law fuels discriminatory attitudes towards those with disabilities as well as infringing the human rights of the baby.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, who is the Director of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre, has said:
“It is not wrongful that babies are born with disabilities. It is wrongful that taxpayers are funding a culture which sees disabled children as an inconvenience. To say the birth of a child is a ‘harm’ to an individual or family and to use taxpayers’ money to compensate for the harm is unkind; it is not a mark of a civilised society. It sends out the wrong signals.”
This revelation appeared at the same time that a High Court judge ruled that doctors at two London hospitals were negligent in failing to detect the abnormalities in prenatal scans and inform the parents. Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said that mother Amanda McGuinn underwent 10 ultrasound scans during her pregnancy.
McGuinn’s daughter was born with microcephaly, an abnormal smallness of the head. On Thursday she was awarded a multimillion-pound damages claim against the NHS on the grounds of “wrongful birth”. Her legal representative, Sarah Campbell, said: “These types of claims are incredibly emotive and misunderstood; the term ‘wrongful birth’, which the law uses to describe them, is in itself deeply upsetting for our client, who dearly loves her daughter and would not now be without her.”
The Judge ruled that the consultant who carried out the 31-week scan should have realised the risk of microcephaly and that a specialist who carried out 36-week scan had also been negligent.
In 2015, the Office for National Statistics reported that 230 abortions were carried out in England and Wales after 24 weeks of gestation.