Would you sue a doctor who helped you give birth to a healthy child?

A lesbian* couple in Melbourne have done just that. After initially losing their court case against the Canberra obstetrician Sydney Armelin who they were trying to sue, the ACP Court of Appeal has overturned the decision by the Supreme Court and awarded the couple $317,000 in compensation.

Let’s re-cap. In the first Australian case of its kind, the Melbourne parents of twin girls sued Dr Armelin for implanting two embryos instead of one during an IVF procedure in 2003. They testified that after the birth of the twins, the mother had lost her capacity to love. (Huh?)
The court was also told that the couple’s relationship had suffered as they had to raise two children instead of one. The amount they sought from suing the doctor was to cover the costs of raising one of the girls including private school fees. Last year the couple’s claim was rejected but in an appeal, that decision has now been overturned.

*Let’s not let the lesbian part get in the way here. This is not a
case about whether gay couples should be able to access fertility
treatment (they should!).

Whenever I hear of a couple suing a doctor for the birth of a child, I always wonder about the implications of such a decision. These twin girls were born in 2003 so would now be 6 years old. I would be shocked if they were completely unaware of what their parents have been doing these past few years in taking this legal action. Even if they don’t understand the full story now, when they’re older, they will.
What amount of compensation can make up for the psychological and emotional damage of knowing you weren’t wanted? Knowing you weren’t wanted SO MUCH that your parents spent a fortune in legal fees trying to prosecute someone they believed was to blame for your birth.

There’s an excellent editorial in The Australian that reveals some more details about this case and makes some powerful arguments….

WHEN judges hand out damages for the birth of a child, it is a sign that society is in trouble.

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It suggests that some of us have become so self-obsessed that we have
forgotten that the arrival of a new human being is a cause for
celebration, not litigation.
Here’s
why: Ms G had changed her mind about the number of embryos she wanted
implanted. And she did so in the operating theatre after earlier
signing documents agreeing to have “one to two” embryos implanted.

When
Ms G told Armellin she wanted one embryo, the doctor believed this
information was not new. He thought it had previously been conveyed to
the clinicians who had prepared the implant.

The doctor
believed Ms G would have conveyed this information during the clinic’s
pre-surgery procedures. In fact, Ms G had failed to take part in those
procedures.

It is a great pity that the Court of Appeal has
not yet explained why it believes Bennett and Armellin were wrong. When
it does, it had better be good.

Unless the court has extremely compelling reasons, it looks as though the real victim here is the obstetrician.

Many parents – and would-be parents – will be angered by this decision. But it is really a cause for pity.

What
sort of mother runs off to court because she has two children instead
of one? And what sort of court believes it has the capacity to restore
the supposed injury caused by the arrival of a child?

……..The mother in question, Ms G, received two embryos instead of one
because of flawed communication in the system used by her fertility
clinic. But Armellin, in Bennett’s view, was not at fault.

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