A family in Everett, Washington has successfully sued the federal government for $10 million over the “wrongful pregnancy” and “wrongful birth” of their daughter, who has severe disabilities. The money is to help the family cover medical expenses, after a nurse mixed up a birth control and a flu shot.

The money, awarded by U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik, is partially to cover the child’s medical costs, to the tune of $7.5 million. The previous week, the judge awarded $1.5 million to the child’s mother, Yesenia Pacheco, and $1 million to the father as compensation for the girl’s “extraordinary medical, educational and similar expenses.”                                            

According to the court, the mother, an El Salvadorian refugee, went to the federally funded NeighborCare Health Center in Seattle where she requested to receive the Depo-Provera shot, which acts as a birth control. The woman already had two children and did not want more at the time due to the costs associated. Instead, the nurse gave her a flu shot. The mistake was not found out until two months later, and by then the mother was already pregnant.

She gave birth to a child, a daughter, who has bilateral persisylvian polymicrogyria (PMG). The condition is a “rare neurological disorder that affects the cerebral cortex,” and can cause “partial paralysis of the face, tongue, jaw and throat; problems with speech and swallowing; excessive drooling; and seizures.” Reportedly, the child has an IQ of about 70.

In March, Judge Lasnik wrote, “Ms. Pacheco had not planned or intended to become pregnant in the fall of 2011 and had taken affirmative steps to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Had she received a Depo-Provera injection on September 30, 2011, she would not have conceived. The unintended pregnancy and birth of S.L.P. were foreseeable consequences of [the nurse’s] error.”

“The risk that a child will be born with a medical condition or disability is within the general field of danger that arises when a medical provider fails to use reasonable care in a procedure designed to prevent pregnancy,” Lasnik concluded.

Attorneys for the couple released a statement, saying, “Luis and Yesenia Pacheco are pleased that they’re close to receiving the funds needed for their daughter’s extraordinary medical care and training. It was a long hard road for the family.”

The couple’s legal team also stated their frustration that the federal government did not accept responsibility earlier, as the legal process dragged out for nearly five years.

The case has been described by the couple’s attorneys as a “wrongful pregnancy” and “wrongful life.” There’s something exceptionally wrong with that characterization.

While there is no doubt that a medical mistake was made, but that mistake was the incorrect shot, not Yesenia and Luis’s daughter. She was unexpected, but, despite her disabilities and the medical and financial challenges that she and the couple will indeed face, her life has meaning and purpose.

Perhaps the couple deserves compensation for the error, but what are we saying as a society when we devalue life to this extent. What about all of the other children conceived due to a similar mistake but are born healthy? Do all of their parents deserve compensation for the “inconvenience” of their existence?

Human life, regardless of how it came about or the circumstances of the birth, should be valued as a unique and special gift from God. When we say one child is “wrongful,” there’s no limit to where that definition can take society.

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