On a macro level, wrongful birth could be analogized to a breach of warranty lawsuit, illustrating the extent to which reproduction has become a consumer activity. Thus, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis after IVF permits parents to select the genes they want in their children before embryos are placed in the womb — with the unwanted often becoming medical waste. Often PGD is applied to prevent the birth of a child with an inherited genetic disease. But it also has cosmetic and consumer applications. For example, embryo selection can be used to choose for sex, eye color and perhaps someday for traits such as intelligence and athletic ability.
We have such a split mind about procreation. On one hand, we believe parents have a fundamental right to have a child by any means necessary, and at the same time, if they change their minds, they can destroy gestating babies that are not wanted. Indeed, would-be parents routinely spend tens of thousands of dollars creating embryos through IVF. But, if too many embryos implant, they have “selective reduction” in which triplets may be “reduced” (a euphemism for abortion) to twins (in reality, triplets with a dead sibling).
A tragic situation in Florida in 2006 illustrates where we are. When a woman became pregnant with two IVF embryos and one tested as positive for Down syndrome, she obtained an abortion. But the abortionist “reduced” the “wrong” fetus. The woman then had a second abortion. Two minus two equals zero. (The doctor subsequently lost his medical license.)
The time has come to reverse course. We could begin with states prohibiting wrongful birth lawsuits as a matter of public policy. We may have a right to have a baby, but we don’t — or at least shouldn’t — have a right to the baby we want. Most importantly, none of us should ever be declared by a jury to be a wrongful life. May Kalanit never learn that her parents would have prevented her from ever being born.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He also consults with the Patients Rights Council and is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.