Israeli children with birth defects increasingly sue medical authorities for allowing them to be born. The growth in "wrongful life" lawsuits, which the medical profession estimates at 600 since the first case in 1987, has prompted an Israeli government investigation. Medical ethicists told New Scientist that these cases raise serious ethical concerns - not least about the value of disabled people's lives - and spark fears that medical professionals will become overly cautious in their diagnostic tests, causing healthy fetuses to be aborted. One ethicist alleged that lawyers looking for work are trawling communities with high rates of genetic disease and inbreeding.
"I find it very difficult to understand how parents can go on the witness stand and tell their children 'it would have better for you not to have been born'," says Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. "What are the psychological effects on the children?" The current trend in Israel is that the children sue for wrongful life, which carries a big award designed to compensate for a lifetime of hardship.
The issue is aggravated in Israel by a strong pro-genetic testing culture. "There is an entire system fuelled by money and the quest for the perfect baby," says Carmel Shalev, of the University of Haifa in Israel. "Everyone buys in to it - parents, doctors and labs. Parents want healthy babies, doctors encourage them to get tested, and some genetic tests are being marketed too early. Genetic testing has enormous benefits but it is overused and misused."
More pregnancy scans are performed in Israel than in other Western countries, including the United States, Japan and Germany. Israel is also liberal with regard to late-term abortion, when the fetus is viable. ~ New Scientist, Oct 26; Haaretz, Oct 18