Parents of Down's child sue doctor over testing

October 17, 1997

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) - The Hagerstown parents of a child with Down's syndrome are suing for the cost of caring for their son, claiming they would have aborted the fetus if they were correctly advised of the risks he would be born with the syndrome.

``Life isn't easy for those of us with all of our mental capacities,'' the child's mother, Joyce Shull, 38, testified. ``I would have loved him enough not to have him.''

The Shull's seek $5 million, alleging they were incorrectly informed of the risk of having a child with the syndrome. Mrs. Shull claims she was tested for abnormalities and was told the test results were normal.

Defense attorneys for Dr. Swati M. Saraiya and Johanna Martino, a nurse practitioner, refute the claims that Mrs. Shull was misinformed, and argue that raising a child with Down's syndrome does not entail any additional expense.


Public services are available for the disabled, and studies indicate children with the syndrome respond better when raised at home than in an institution, the defense argued.

``Is he a burden or a blessing,'' defense attorney Jodi Ebersole asked. ``I think the evidence will show the latter.''

Saraiya and Martino worked at the time for Woman to Woman Health Care in Columbia, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The suit claims blood tests showed Mrs. Shull was at high risk of having a baby with the syndrome, but was initially told the tests showed no abnormalities.

The defense claims she was advised of the risk, and declined further testing. Mrs. Shull claims she would have undergone further testing if she had been made aware she was at high risk.

``I only want what Elliott deserves,'' she testified Wednesday in Howard County Circuit Court. ``I love Elliott, I love Elliott with all my heart.''

More so-called wrongful birth lawsuits such as the Shulls' claim are being filed more as technology allows doctors to identify deformities or illnesses during pregnancy, advocates for the disabled said.

The more technology there is, ``the more reason you have to pursue this kind of case,'' said Paul Marchand, director of governmental affairs for the national Association For Retarded Citizens.

``You would not have reason to pursue this case 30 or 40 years ago.''

Disability advocates say medical advances allow Down's syndrome victims to lead fruitful lives, meaning the birth of such a child with the syndrome is not necessarily a tragedy. However, they acknowledge raising a child with a disability can be very stressful, causing many parents to divorce because of the tension.

The defense maintains that not only did Shull know the risks, she indicated to the doctor and nurse before and after the birth that she would not have done anything differently with her pregnancy.

Shull acknowledged under cross-examination Wednesday that she testified in a pre-trial deposition that she and her husband had discussed what to do if their child was diagnosed with problems before birth.

Mrs. Shull said she decided ``we would love him, whatever, him or her.''

However, she testified in court that ``we had those discussions when we had all good test results.''

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