Birth Rights and Wrongs: How Medical Mix‑Ups Are Remaking Reproduction and the Law


Dov FoxFollow

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Millions of Americans rely on the likes of birth control, IVF, and genetic testing to make plans as intimate and far-reaching as any they ever make. This is no less than the medicine of miracles. It fills empty cradles, frees families from terrible disease, and empowers them to fashion their lives on their own terms. But every year, thousands of accidents happen: Pharmacists mix up pills. Lab techs misread tests. Obstetricians tell women their healthy fetuses would be stillborn.

Political and economic forces conspire against meaningful regulation. And the American legal system treats reproductive negligence less like mischief than misfortune. Some courts insist that thwarted plans are too easy to contrive and too hard to verify. Others wonder why victims didn’t just turn to abortion or adoption instead. Most are unwilling to risk characterizing any child’s birth as a legal injury. So judges throw up their hands, resigned that science has simply outpaced the law. Failed abortions, switched donors, and lost embryos may be first-world problems. But these aren’t innocent lapses or harmless errors. They’re wrongs in need of rights.

Birth Rights and Wrongs lifts the curtain on reproductive negligence and gives voice to the many hundreds of lives it upends each year. The book sets forth a new way of thinking and talking about transgressions that leave patients with: (1) no baby, when they undertook reliable efforts to have one; (2) any baby, when they set out to avoid pregnancy and parenthood; and (3) a baby born with different health, sex, and other traits than the ones they’d selected. This novel architecture doesn’t just force citizens and courts to rethink the controversies of our time. It equips us to meet the new challenges — from womb transplants to gene editing — that lie just over the horizon.

Publication Info

Birth Rights and Wrongs: How Medicine and Technology are Remaking Reproduction and the Law (Oxford University Press, 2019);