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Could conception, birth or life be ‘wrong’?
  1. Robert Wheeler
  1. Paediatric Surgery, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Wheeler, Paediatric Surgery, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK; robert.wheeler{at}

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The thought of a person seeking compensation for being alive may cause bewilderment. Could this be a legitimate claim?

There is a general assumption in English law that children can only make a claim for the effect of disabilities which they have suffered after some prenatal event, rather than for the very fact of being born with a disability. This latter ‘disallowed’ claim is known as one for 'wrongful life'. Parents, by contrast, might be able to claim for a wrongful conception or wrongful birth of a child born alive…who but for a clinician’s substandard care, would not have been born at all.

Claims by parents of children born alive for wrongful conception can arise in various contexts, often related to imperfect sterilisation procedures, or flawed presterilisation counselling. By contrast, a wrongful birth claim is often founded on a failure to successfully terminate a pregnancy; or to screen for genetic abnormalities, or other relevant tests of the fetal health. In each case, the claim would relate to the mother continuing with an unwanted pregnancy or an initially planned pregnancy that the mother would have wished to terminate.

Can children make claims for their own wrongful conception?

Living children can make money claims for the effects of injuries they sustained before birth. By contrast, the precursor fetus has no legal personality, so cannot sue or recover damages. However, once the child is born, such a claim is facilitated …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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