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Posted on 25th April 2017

What is Wrongful Birth

Is it Medical Negligence, How does it happen and can you get compensation?

  • Wrongful birth is when a doctor fails to identify a genetic disability or illness that a baby has when in the womb, and so fails to tell the parents about the risk of disability or illness.
  • It normally happens when screening tests aren’t undertaken properly or the results aren’t interpreted correctly.
  • It isn’t a common thing to happen.


Wrongful birth is a legal term that describes when a child is born with a genetic disability or illness that a medical practitioner should have picked up on during pregnancy and informed the parents about. Since it is a legal term, wrongful birth always describes an incidence of negligence.

In compensation claims, the onus is on the claimant’s side to prove wrongful birth. You can also make a claim for failed sterilisation or failed vasectomy, when individuals believed a pregnancy to be impossible because of a previous procedure but they find themselves pregnant because the procedure has not been successful.

How does it happen?

During pregnancy parents are offered different screening tests to detect genetic conditions or infectious diseases. Currently on the NHS you’ll be offered screening tests for the following:

  • Hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis
  • Sickle cell, thalassaemia and other haemoglobin disorders
  • Down’s, Edwards’ and Patau’s syndrome
  • Anencephaly, open spina bifida, cleft lip, diaphragmatic hernia, gastroschisis, exomphalos, serious cardiac abnormalities, bilateral renal agenesis, lethal skeletal dysplasia

Some of these screening tests happen at 11 to 14 weeks and later screenings happen at 18-21 weeks. The screenings are done using blood tests, eye screenings and ultrasound scans.

If your child is born with any of these conditions or infections and you weren’t informed about the possibility that these might develop during pregnancy, you may have a wrongful birth case.

Are the screening tests 100% accurate?

Screening tests do not give you a definitive yes or no to any of the above conditions. Instead, they indicate the likeliness that your child will have one of these problems — you’re told whether there is a high or low risk.

What are the most common mistakes?

Common mistakes include:

  • Missing signs of the conditions in initial screenings
  • Failing to make appropriate recommendations for further screenings based on initial evidence
  • Misinterpreting symptoms and underestimating risk

What are you compensated for? Compensation is calculated based on the emotional distress that may have been caused and the cost of lifetime care for the child.

Compensation is calculated based on the emotional distress that may have been caused and the cost of lifetime care for the child.

How often does wrongful birth happen?

Wrongful birth isn’t particularly common. Between the years 2003-2013 only 164 claims for wrongful birth were successful. Sixty of these claims remain open. Out of the remaining 104 closed claims, 24 were for failed sterilisation that resulted in the birth of a healthy baby, and 24 were for claims relating to rare congenital abnormalities. These two types of claims were made most often over the ten-year span.

If my child is born with a condition and I didn’t expect it, will it always be negligence?

Like all medical negligence cases, a wrongful birth claim must include the following parts:

  • A doctor negligently failing to disclose the actual risk of having a child with a genetic or congenital disease
  • The defendant has suffered harm
  • The medical practitioner’s negligence has caused that harm

Further Information