A couple filed a lawsuit Thursday against Long Beach Memorial Medical Center for wrongful life and wrongful birth, claims of medical malpractice that are recognized in about half of the states in the U.S., and are otherwise little-known in the public sphere.
The couple is suing Long Beach Memorial for not disclosing their genetic testing results, which would have prompted the fetal screening of their son, who was later born in September 2014 with cystic fibrosis.
A wrongful life suit allows a parent or guardian to sue a healthcare provider on behalf of their disabled child for not preventing the child’s birth. A wrongful birth suit is filed by the parents on their own behalf, against their doctor for failing to warn them of the risk of conceiving a child with a serious genetic or congenital disorder.
Specifically, this couple alleges the doctor who was overseeing the woman’s prenatal care denied them the choice of an abortion, which resulted in the eventual birth of their son, who tested positive for the hereditary disorder.
Another foundation of the lawsuit rests on the couple claiming that cannot afford a lifetime of treatment for their son, whose disease will require extensive health care treatment.
"[Hernandez] specifically requested cystic fibrosis carrier screening in writing" before the child was born, the suit states.
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, those afflicted with cystic fibrosis are born with a defective gene that causes a “thick buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs,” which can often clog airways and trap bacteria, leading to infections. The median lifespan of an individual with cystic fibrosis is currently 40 years old, the foundation states.
Though this seems shockingly short, the foundation notes that this expected lifespan is up dramatically from what it was in the 1950s, when few children with cystic fibrosis lived long enough to attend elementary school.
The lawsuit was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court by Javier Sanchez and Samantha Hernandez on behalf of themselves and their son, Justin James Sanchez. It names Dr. James P. Cardin Jr. and Quest Diagnostics Clinical Laboratories, and seeks unspecified damages.
After Hernandez’s initial testing request, the lawsuit alleges Dr. Cardin "obtained a blood specimen from Hernandez," but "failed to obtain the screening results from the laboratory and/or failed to advise Samantha and Javier of the results of the screening, which would have revealed she was a carrier of the genetic mutation which causes CF [cystic fibrosis] and would have prompted CF testing of the fetus."
It also alleges that Quest Diagnostics failed to test the specimen and give the results to Cardin, Hernandez and Sanchez.
Because Hernandez did not receive the results, she alleges she was not given an informed choice on whether or not to abort the fetus, according to the lawsuit. As a result, the suits says they are faced with paying a lifetime of significant medical expenses.
When contacted, representatives from Long Beach Memorial said the claim had not yet been served on the hospital, and that they would not comment until the case has been tried and a "jury has determined what the truth is."
According to a medical news journal, approximately 25 states recognize wrongful life claims. The same number of states recognize wrongful birth as a claim (California included, since 1980).
In 1982, the California Court of Appeal officially accepted wrongful life claims, or, as one lawsuit termed it, a child’s lawsuit seeking damages against a physician who did not properly advise their parents of the possibility of their hereditary condition.
In the case of Turpin v. Sortini, the court concluded that "under California common law tort principles, an afflicted child could maintain such an action and could ‘recover damages for the pain and suffering to be endured during the limited life span available to such a child and any special pecuniary loss resulting from the impaired condition,’ including the costs of medical care to the extent such costs were not recovered by the child's parents."
While the Hernandez’s case is not precedent-setting, such claims are relatively rare.
City News Service contributed to this report.