The Iowa Supreme Court issued a 6-1 ruling in what is being referred to as a medical negligence case of “wrongful birth”. The court ruled that parents of children born with severe disabilities can bring actions against medical providers who do not inform them of the discovery of significant fetal defects. Similar decisions have been in place in other states for several years. The court encouraged that the Iowa legislature to enact a statute if they are in disagreement with the ruling. Pamela and Jeremy Plowman filed the suit after their son was born with cerebral palsy and other mental impairments at Fort Madison Community Hospital (FMCH). It is doubtful that the boy will ever have the ability to talk or walk. Mrs. Plowman was told that the fetus was in good physical condition during her 22-week ultrasound. The couple does not know why the medical staff did not alert them, as they would have aborted the child had they been made aware of the severity of the conditions.
Mrs. Plowman became pregnant with the couple’s third child in late 2010 and she began visits with Leah Steffensmeier, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology for prenatal care at FMCH. The key events went as follows:
- During her 22nd week of pregnancy, an ultrasound was conducted and reviewed by two radiologists who cited abnormalities to the fetus’ head structure and recommended follow-up
- Further review confirmed that the head was much smaller than it should be in development
- Her physician informed her that the fetus was fine’
- Despite the radiologists report about the abnormalities, the mother was not informed
- No further testing was conducted during the pregnancy
- Two months after the birth, Plowman began developing concerns about the child based on odd behavior
- After testing, it was determined that the child had small corpus callosum as well as cerebral palsy, cortical impairment and a seizure-related condition.
- The child has therapy at his home twice weekly and takes medication for prevention of seizures. So far, no cause has been determined
In 2013, the suit was filed against FMCH which does not claim that the defendants were the cause of the child’s disabilities; instead, that the medical staff failed in interpretation, diagnosis, and communication relating to the child’s condition. The claim seeks recovery for past and future costs of care, expenses of raising the child, anguish, and losses of income. The defense argued that actions of wrongful birth were not acknowledged in the state, thus the case should be dismissed. The recent decision allows for a trial to determine if the providers demonstrated negligence. Justice Thomas Waterman explained that the case centers on whether the parents were unable to make an informed decision on whether to terminate the pregnancy under the law.