The recent “wrongful birth” case of the Levy family bothers me on many levels.
I want to understand how loving parents could rationalize filing a lawsuit claiming that their daughter’s birth was wrongful. I don’t want to judge them or the jury that awarded them $2.9 million – truly, I don’t. I sat on this story for awhile, hoping that the urge to post about it would pass.
I’ll stipulate that they have a case for medical malpractice.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the testing was screwed up. That clears the jury (though I have a sinking feeling that some, if not all, of the jurors bought into the faulty premise that a life with Down syndrome was a life not worth living).
I’ll also stipulate that the Levys love their daughter, Kalanit, every bit as much as I love Nathan.
Some have insinuated that the Levys don’t love Kalanit, but I’ll take them at their word.
Many others have expressed their views on this case. A few of the sentiments include:
- Kalanit will more than likely know that her parents consider her to be a burden.
- Kalanit’s two brothers will learn, if they don’t already know, that their parents consider their sister to be a burden.
- Doctors will more aggressively press for more prenatal testing, and likely for more abortions of imperfect children.
Good points all.
But never mind all that. Whether I agree with their choices or not, the Levys are within their rights to raise their children as they see fit, and doctors already press for prenatal testing. Instead, I want to focus on the bigger picture.
What did the Levys say to the world through their lawsuit?
- They’ve promoted the false stereotype that people with Down syndrome aren’t capable of living independently or contributing to society in a productive way.
- They’ve lent credence to the idea that people with Down syndrome not only don’t contribute, but are a burden to society. When society hears that message from parents in the trenches, rather than academics, it’ll carry more weight – especially to those people who already believe it.
- They’ve advanced the outdated meme that families are better off not having a child with Down syndrome, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary.
- They’ve emboldened society to label parents who weren’t willing to abort as genetics scofflaws for choosing life. Not only will our children be marginalized, but we, their parents, will be, as well.
- They’ve encouraged people to view parents of children with Down syndrome with disdain because we didn’t do the responsible thing and abort our “burden to society”.
- They’ve thumbed their noses at the entire Down syndrome community – you know, the people who would have rallied around their family to ensure their daughter is included and accepted in society.
The Levys have indicated that they intend to give Kalanit every opportunity that their two sons have. Ironic, since many of the opportunities Kalanit will receive are the result of years of hard work on behalf of self-advocates and their parents – hard won battles against the very stereotypes that the Levys have perpetuated through their lawsuit.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
The Levys probably believe they are doing the best thing for Kalanit. Financial security is likely paramount in their minds – I know because it’s important to me, too. But in taking this extreme step to protect Kalanit, they’ve done a tremendous disservice to the Down syndrome community – including their daughter. Not everyone is cut out for advocacy, to be sure, but the Levys have become anti-advocates.
They have sacrificed our community on the Altar of Discontent, rather than graciously accept the hand that they were dealt.
It’s easy to be gracious when things are going your way. If you never face adversity, you never have to make the hard decisions that prove the strength (or weakness) of your character. But sometimes, sh!t happens. Children are born prematurely, contract deadly diseases, suffer debilitating injuries, or have chromosomal abnormalities, like Down syndrome. And, yes, sex does sometimes lead to a pregnancy you weren’t expecting.
I get it – I’ve been there.
I don’t claim to be perfect – my faults are many, to be sure – and my instincts, like most people’s, are inherently selfish. I’ve done my level best to empathize with the Levys, knowing that the choices we must make as the parents of special children often have no clear-cut answers.
But my empathy for their situation will only take me so far, knowing the irreparable damage they’ve done to our community.
What are your thoughts on the Levy wrongful birth case? Please share them with me in the comments.