April 16, 2024


Alexia Harriton and her mother Olga -- Sydney Morning Herald

Two “wrongful life” cases are being studied by the High Court of Australia. One involves Alexia Harriton, a 24-year-old woman who is blind, deaf, spastic and mentally retarded after her mother contracted rubella during pregnancy. Olga Harriton, her mother, says that she would have aborted Alexia if she had been properly advised.

The other case involves a 5-year-old girl, Keeden Walker, who has permanent brain damage, cerebral palsy and seizures because of a genetic disorder passed on by her father. Her parents say that they would have used IVF with donor sperm or would have aborted her if they had known.

The two cases raise difficult issues of law. Recognising the notion of “wrongful life” might lead to a situation in which there is a duty to have an abortion, commented Chief Justice Murray Gleeson. As well, how can there be damages if there is no life before the negligence? Is there a potential conflict between the interests of the parents and the child? It will be some time before the High Court hands down its decision.