Test error triggers ‘wrongful birth’ ruling

Posted: 1st March 2019

Blood testProving negligence and that someone has suffered injury, loss or damage can be tricky, but the real challenge often lies in establishing the causal link between the two. The Court of Appeal confronted one such issue in a so-called ‘wrongful birth’ case.

The case concerned a woman who was concerned that she might be carrying the haemophilia gene because a relative suffered from the condition. She underwent a blood test at her local medical centre and was reassured when told that she did not have haemophilia. The GP who gave her the results of the test accepted that she had breached the duty that she owed her patient, in that the test did not establish, one way or the other, whether the woman was a carrier of the gene.

The woman became pregnant four years later and gave birth to a baby boy who suffered from both haemophilia and autism. The GP’s lawyers accepted that, had she been aware that she was a carrier, the woman would have opted to terminate her pregnancy and the boy would not have been born. On that basis, a judge awarded her £9 million in compensation, that sum representing the additional costs involved in bringing up a child with haemophilia and autism.

In upholding the GP’s challenge to that ruling, the Court noted that the woman had asked to be tested solely for the haemophilia gene. The fact that the child had also been born with autism was a matter of chance and the risk of that occurrence had not been increased by the GP’s negligent advice. The ruling meant that the woman was entitled only to the extra costs associated with rearing a child with haemophilia. Her compensation was, by agreement, reduced to £1.4 million.