Letter: Down's syndrome: litigation, inspiration, and the problems of choice

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Sir: There is another, and compelling, reason that was not mentioned in your leading article 'The right to a perfect baby' (24 August), why the courts should reject claims from parents who allege that their doctor's negligence denied them the opportunity to abort a child subsequently born handicapped.

Such claims are, to put it at its lowest, unseemly and, in truth, an affront to public decency, for they necessarily require the plaintiff parents to satisfy the court that they would, if only they could, have had their own child, a member of their own family, someone whom they and no doubt others care for and love, and whose need for care and love is, precisely because of his handicap, all the greater, killed in order to save money and trouble. (A mother who says no more than that if she had been offered an abortion she would have considered it, has no action.)

These actions cannot be entertained without countenancing the notion that not only the decriminalised, but the perfectly proper, thing to do when there is a serious risk that a child will be born handicapped, is to have the unborn baby killed. This must imply that handicapped people are to be valued less, and respected less, than are healthy ones: which is deeply insulting to handicapped people and to those who care for them.

A civilised society will do all it can to ease the lot of parents who have responsibility for handicapped children: it is anything but civilised to single out for preferential treatment self-proclaimed would-be abortionists who happen to have been the patients of negligent doctors.

Yours sincerely,


Director of Studies in Law

Jesus College

University of Cambridge

24 August