Wrong in many ways

I recently finished  Jodi Picoult‘s latest novel, “Handle with Care.” Although I’ve loved pretty much all of her books, I really did not like this one very much. For one, I always have a hard time enjoying a book if I don’t like the characters, and these characters were extremely frustrating to me.

There are multiple sub-plots, but the main premise is a family with two girls, one healthy and one with a rare disease that makes her bones extremely brittle. The parents obsess over Willow’s constantly breaking bones and neglect their older daughter, Amelia. When her lawyer comes across the potential for a wrongful birth lawsuit, mother Charlotte sees it as a way out of their constantly mounting debt and a way to provide for her child. Charlotte becomes overly self-righteous and single-minded in her belief that this  lawsuit is a good thing, even as she destroys her friendship with her best friend (also her ob-gyn), jeopardizes her marriage and severely messes up her two girls. The book doesn’t even end satisfactorily, because everything is not okay and Charlotte gets away with her behavior.

But what I really took away from the novel is the idea of a wrongful birth lawsuit, which I had never heard of. About half the states in this country recognize these medical malpractice suits that the blame obstetrician-gynecologist for not letting parents know sooner that their fetus had something wrong with it. The parents sue on the premise that, had they know of their child’s illness or disability, they would’ve aborted, basically saying ‘we wish our child had never been born.’

Now obviously abortion is a loaded issue, particularly when it comes to severely disabled or ill babies, and if parents find out a few months into a pregnancy that their child will suffer throughout his or her short life and they will be strained emotionally and financially, their decision to abort can be deemed acceptable by many people. In fact, 90% of the time, parents abort when they are told their fetus has Down syndrome.

But what I cannot stomach is this lawsuit concept. These parents have gone through with the pregnancy and kept their baby, only to decide after the fact that they wish they had aborted. Even if the physician did make a mistake and didn’t let them know of a problem, how can they now say they wish their baby had never been born? Can they be so cold as to not love their own child, to not appreciate the good moments, to define a life by a disability? In the case of this novel, the girl in question is incredibly sweet, smart and funny – and her parents  love her very much. In fact, they both know they would never have aborted. Instead, they sue just because they can.

Most of the time wrongful birth cases win, ostensibly because juries feel so much pity that they want to reward the families money. Which is what this comes down to – an after-the-fact way of milking money from malpractice insurance companies. I understand that raising a disabled child is incredibly costly, but is getting that money back really worth the cost to the child? In “Handle with Care,” the trial leaves a happy, sweet little girl confused and scared and wondering why her mother doesn’t love her anymore. Even after they get millions of dollars, I don’t think that’s a price any good parent would be willing to pay.


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