Thursday, September 07, 2000

PULFER: A disabled child

Who gets credit for her birth?

        My daughter didn't ask to be born. I know this because she told me so when I said she had to clean her room, that we needed a field guide to find the dishes that had disappeared there.

        She reminded me numerous other times. Most memorable were the tattoo discussion, the various curfew debates, the times when I was completely — completely — unreasonable about such things as consumption of green vegetables, car-key privileges, hair styles.

        We argued about many things as she was growing up. Sometimes laughing, sometimes not. But I always agreed with her about that one thing. She did not ask to be born. It was my privilege to make that decision.

        And my responsibility.

An informed decision
        To me family planning means you plan not only to have the child but to provide for it. It is immoral — we're still allowed to say something is immoral, aren't we? — to bring a child into this world if you don't have a reasonable expectation of making a good life for that child.

        It's not just money. It's believing you have time to argue about bedtime and homework. It's knowing you have the guts to take on the responsibility. It's thinking you are strong enough. It's guessing you'd be a better parent to two children than to six.

        In a crisis — and terminating a pregnancy is just that — Roe v. Wade says these decisions cannot be made by strangers.

        Patricia and Lawrence Hester of Springdale claim they were denied information that would have helped them make that decision. They have charged that Drs. Leela Dwivedi and Luis Saldana didn't tell them their daughter, Alicia, would be born with a birth defect.

        Alicia, born in 1993 with spina bifida, is paralyzed from the chest down. The Ohio Supreme Court was asked to decide whether this child, in the words of Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, “should recover damages for the "injury' of being born.”

        The court ruled Wednesday that she should not.

        “In contrast to a pregnant woman who is unwilling or unable to undertake the burdens, both financial and nonfinancial, associated with the care of an impaired child, and therefore decides to terminate her pregnancy, the child herself does not have an option to decide whether or not it will be born.”

        In other words, Alicia did not ask to be born.

Hunting the Hesters
        Next, a lower court will decide whether her parents should be compensated for her birth. According to Dr. Saldana's attorney, Michael Lyon, it is essentially a malpractice case, and the doctors deny any liability.

        The Hesters claim Patricia underwent multiple prenatal tests, including ultrasound, alpha-fetoprotein blood testing and amniocentesis in the course of her pregnancy. They say the test results showed the presence of birth defects in the fetus and that they were never told.

        Mrs. Hester said she'd have terminated the pregnancy had she known.

        I called their attorney, John Holschuh Jr., who very politely told me nothing. “The case is still pending.” Of course, I didn't really want to talk to him. I wanted to talk to the Hesters. I wanted to know if they have any other children. I wanted to know if they are poor.

        In other words, I was trying to decide whether the Hesters could handle the emotional and financial challenge of the birth of a child with a severe disability.

        But it is not my privilege to make that decision.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.

Girl has no right to sue

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