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The Legal Concept of Wrongful Life

Jeffrey R. Botkin, MD, MPH
JAMA. 1988;259(10):1541-1545. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720100059039.
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THE LAST several decades have brought dramatic improvements in medicine's ability to predict and diagnose genetic and congenital disease. The first prenatal diagnosis of a chromosome defect occurred as recently as 1967, followed the next year by the successful detection of an inborn error of metabolism. Currently, some 200 metabolic and chromosomal disorders can be diagnosed prenatally, and with the rapid development of powerful DNA probes, it may soon be possible to detect all of the 3000 known single-gene defects in humans. This knowledge affords significant benefits to children, parents, and society, but also confers additional responsibilities on the medical profession. With responsibility comes potential liability, so these medical developments have brought a variety of new legally recognized causes for malpractice action.

"Wrongful birth" and "wrongful life" are two new legal concepts that have been developed in the last two decades as a result of prenatal diagnostic capabilities and the


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