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August 27, 1982

Wrongful Birth: What Is the Damage?

Author Affiliations

From the Office of the General Counsel, American Medical Association.

JAMA. 1982;248(8):926-927. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330080016018

Sterilization has been used increasingly by married couples as a method of birth control. If the surgical procedure is unsuccessful, what damages can be claimed or recovered against the physician who performed the procedure? Suits for wrongful birth following an unsuccessful sterilization procedure have been based on theories that the procedure was performed negligently or that there was a breach of the contract to ensure sterility or a breach of warranty.

Traditionally, life has been regarded as a blessing by the courts. Therefore, until recently, courts have been reluctant to recognize wrongful birth actions. To allow a person to be awarded any amount for damages for the birth of a normal, healthy infant, including those costs incurred during pregnancy and delivery, was considered contrary to public policy.

The first case to consider the issue of wrongful birth was Christensen v Thornby, 255 NW 620, Minn App (1934). Christensen engaged the