Critics are asking, “Is Proposed Texas ‘Wrongful Birth’ Bill Dangerous?” For some time, Texas lawmakers have been considering a bill that would prevent parents from suing a doctor if their child is born with a disability. Known as the ‘wrongful birth‘ bill, or Senate Bill 25 (SB 25), this piece of legislation is causing quite a stir across Texas.
To help our readers understand the importance of SB 25, the team at Brown Wharton & Brothers has created this informative article. Anyone with questions about healthcare laws, medical malpractice, or birth injuries should contact an attorney to learn more about how these laws affect them and their loved ones.
The Heart of the Wrongful Birth Debate
Consider this. You are pregnant. You attend every doctor’s appointment without fail, obey dietary restrictions, and take care of your body. Your doctor assures you that all is well. When your child is born, however, he has severe disabilities or deformities that were identified during your pregnancy but your doctor chose not to inform you because he was afraid you would seek an abortion, rather than carrying your child to term. Your doctor used his discretion to determine that you should not be informed about your child’s health.
Now imagine that you cannot sue your doctor because he is protected by the government. Even though he knowingly failed to inform you about your child’s health, knowingly failed to offer treatment options, and knowingly stripped you of your right to make informed choices about your health. You have incurred tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses, and your child is permanently disabled, or worse, has died due to his injuries. What now?
If SB 25 is passed, you would have no recourse. You would be unable to sue or seek damages to compensate you for what is clearly negligence. Instead, parents would have to fight negligence only through medical malpractice laws.
Two Sides of an Unfortunate Debate
Like all proposed legislation, SB 25 has supporters and critics. It is the latest in a long series of legislation relating to wrongful birth, which, in Texas, dates back to 1973 when a doctor was sued for failing to diagnose Rubella during pregnancy, resulting in a severely disabled child. It also raises some significant ethical and moral questions.
Supporters of SB 25 claim that, if passed, it would protect the rights of doctors and “show respect” to disabled children. They hold that there is no such thing as a wrongful birth. The overall response to this argument has been that it is hollow and is nothing more than a veiled attempt to undermine the rights of Texas women.
Texas law holds that women have the Constitutional right to make informed decisions about their healthcare, including whether or not to have an abortion. Many women suffer from health complications that result in disabled or deformed fetuses, or even fetal death in the womb. Currently, the law requires doctors to inform women about their health and that of the fetus so that informed decisions can be made, including options like experimental therapies or elective or necessary abortion. SB 25 would take away this requirement and allow doctors to use their “discretion” when informing pregnant women about disabilities.
There are numerous criticisms and objections to SB 25. Not all of these objections are related to the ever-contentious pro-life versus pro-choice dilemma. Most of them, in fact, go deeper than that into the realm of legal rights and moral responsibility. A breakdown of the most significant is as follows:
Critics argue that SB 25 would empower doctors to keep valuable information from patients, or even allow them to impose their personal or religious beliefs on women by keeping information from them in order to prevent abortions. At a Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs meeting, no one on the committee could answer the question “Don’t you think this (SB 25) creates a climate where doctors feel they have the right to impose their own moral beliefs”?
Without adequate information about the health of a fetus, women cannot make the best choices for themselves, the baby, and their family. Consider one woman who carried her child to term without ever being informed that the fetus had severe health abnormalities. The result was the baby being stillborn. Had she been informed about the baby’s health, she testified that she would have tried experimental therapy to try to save the baby’s life. Instead, she was denied her right to make informed decisions.
There are also situations in which continuing with a complicated pregnancy threatens the life of the mother and difficult choices must be made. Shouldn’t patients and their loved ones have the right to determine what is best after being given all the facts?
Challenging Low-Income Families
The majority of SB 25 sponsors also voted against Medicaid expansion laws that would have made insurance more affordable for low-income families. Raising severely disabled children and managing the aftermath of a traumatic pregnancy experience forces many families to rely on state programs to survive. Critics of SB 25 are concerned that doctors will keep information from pregnant mothers about their babies in an effort to prevent elective abortions, which would in turn, result in more families relying on state benefits to raise their children.
The Texas Senate Committee has been somewhat unclear on exactly what they hope SB 25 will do for Texans. Supporters continue to claim that doctors will not be protected from deliberately withholding information or providing negligent healthcare. Yet their primary argument is that the bill is designed to protect doctors. Well then, critics ask, “what exactly is the point of the bill?”
ome state that it is designed to encourage doctors to provide sound advice as a way of avoiding personal liability. Others claim that it is a bill that “rights a wrong and protects doctors.”
Supporters continue to claim that this bill will not restrict access to testing, treatment, or abortion. This goal seems to many, however, to be unrealistic since it would put the future and decision-making of mothers pregnant with a disabled child into the hands of the doctor, not the family.
SB 25 was sent to the full Senate after a unanimous vote from the committee.
Protecting the Rights of Texans
At Brown Wharton & Brothers, our goal is to protect the rights of Texans who have been harmed by negligence, medical malpractice, or nursing home abuse. Contact our office today to learn more about your rights and how we can help.