Wrongful Pregnancy

We all understand that human error can play a role in any medical procedure, but this is never without consequences for the medical practitioners. Whether mistakes are due to negligence or equipment failure, when something goes wrong it is usually cited as medical malpractice. One area of medicine that has seen a rise in medical malpractice is that which is now known as wrongful pregnancy. This is a relatively new term that has been established and put to use in order to address medical malpractice in any sort of voluntary sterilization procedure. It occurs when a patient has a procedure done that will prevent them from becoming pregnant (in the case of women) or impregnating a female partner (in the case of men), and yet pregnancy occurs. If a procedure has failed and an unwanted pregnancy occurs, the laws now recognize the rights of the patient to claim damages. The definition of the damages, though, is something under heavy debate.

Who Is to Blame?

In the case of wrongful pregnancies there are many points at which blame might be assigned:
  • The medical practitioner who failed to perform the procedure properly
  • Pharmaceutical companies whose drugs did not prevent pregnancy
  • Medical providers whose sterilization treatments failed
Interestingly enough, the term is modern but the legal foundation behind it is not. In the 1930s the Supreme Court of Minnesota debated the damages owed to a married couple whose physician failed to perform a vasectomy properly. In the case, the couple was told it would be dangerous for them to conceive, a vasectomy was done, and yet a pregnancy occurred. In this case, the physician was deemed financially liable for the child's care. As is the case in many legal issues, though, the burden of proof is on those claiming damages. In other words, it is up to the patient to prove that wrongful pregnancy has occurred.

What Is Wrongful Pregnancy?

Legal matters tend to create a lot of debate over the definitions of wrongful pregnancy. Wrongful pregnancy can include the failure to accurately perform a medical procedure specifically meant to prevent pregnancy. It is not important who the failed procedure was performed on, whether male or female, if there is a subsequent pregnancy it is usually due to the failure of the doctor who performed the surgery. In 42 states there are now laws around such issues, but they are not without controversy or even some limitations. After all, the vast majority of parents who endure wrongful pregnancies will still love and care for the children that result. However, they may have had no plans or options for funding the upbringing of the child, and so the medical professionals are then deemed liable for these damages. Even though it is obvious that medical wrongdoing is at the heart of the matter, those who oppose or combat such cases argue that there are many reasons that damages should not be claimed. They might sight the emotional trauma on the child who learns that he or she was unwanted, or that fraudulent claims may increase with each case made before the courts. However, there are also advocates for wrongful pregnancy claims who pose very valid arguments as well. Interestingly enough, these debates have made it clear that most medical providers are not cited for the costs of raising the child that results from wrongful pregnancy (31 of 42 states do not allow claims of that kind). Instead, many states allow claims for medical expenses, lost wages, emotional pain and suffering, and other similar damages. Wrongful pregnancy is real when you have had a sterilization procedure and yet still become pregnant. Most states have laws that will allow you to make claims against the medical providers, and it is important to consider your options.
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