“We would have aborted her.” These are words no child ever deserves to hear their parents say – these are words no parent should even consider uttering – but four-year-old Kalanit Levy’s mother and father said just that. Deborah and Ariel Levy lament the birth of their daughter to such an extent that they actually filed a lawsuit against Legacy Health in Portland, Oregon, over it.
When it comes to medical malpractice cases, ‘wrongful death’ is a common grievance in courts across the country. However, Deborah and Ariel Levy filed a ‘wrongful birth’ suit against the hospital that delivered their daughter, after a prenatal test – known as chorionic villus sampling, or CVS for short – that is used to detect whether a fetus has Down syndrome, failed, resulting in Kalanit being born with the condition.
David K. Miller, the couple’s attorney, argued during trial that Dr. Thomas Jenkins removed tissue in the womb from Deborah, rather than from the baby, when he carried out the procedure at the clinic. Since the doctor and lab technicians were testing a maternal tissue sample, the CVS was rendered useless. In an interview, the couple told ABC News that their doctors were negligent with regards to their prenatal care for failing to identify the serious condition. The Levys argued that had they known, they would not have chosen to carry their pregnancy to term.
Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. One in every 691 babies in the United States is born with the condition. Currently, there are more than 400,000 people living with Down syndrome in the United States, spanning all races and economic levels. People with Down syndrome have an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia, and thyroid conditions. Many of these conditions are now treatable, so most people with Down syndrome have the ability to lead healthy lives.
A.W.R. Hawkins, a writer for Human Events, commented on this case, “My oldest daughter has Down syndrome, and there are struggles involved. But she is not a dog to be put down when times get hard; she is a human with needs that differ from, and in many cases go beyond, the needs of other humans. Nevertheless, she loves dressing up, carrying her purse, going out to dinner, reading, and watching American Idol, just like millions of other little female humans.”
On March 12, a verdict was reached in this case. Having found Legacy Health liable on five counts of negligence, the jury awarded the couple a $2.9 million judgment, which they claim will go towards Kalanit’s care. After the verdict was read, the Levys’ attorney told reporters, “It’s been difficult for them. There’s been a lot of misinformation out there. These are parents who love this little girl very, very much. Their mission since the beginning was to provide for her and that’s what this is all about.”
This lawsuit has sparked a firestorm of controversy, with people falling on both sides of the debate. There are those who do not take issue with what the Levys did, arguing that it is their decision as to whether they want to bring a child into the world or not. On the other hand, people have lambasted the couple, some even going so far as to send them hate mail and death threats. As the arguments swirl and the debate rages on, the most important aspect of this entire story seems to have been forgotten – precious Kalanit.
At the conclusion of his article, A.W.R. Hawkins writes, “The culture of death is pervasive, and it permeates every aspect of the hearts and minds of those who partake in it. And because so many are looking to death as solution, we have now come to a place in time where parents, like Ariel and Deborah Levy, openly loathe the life of one of their children: openly wish they had aborted her.”
As a society, we must learn to value human life again. Since the Roe v. Wade decision of the 1970s, abortion has been a hot-button issue in politics. Although certain arguments stemming from Kalanit’s story have centered around the matter of abortion, that is not what this case represents. Regardless of how you feel about abortion, I would hope that we could all agree that human life is to be cherished and not seen as a burden or a mistake. Although they require quite a bit of attention and care, children are gifts, and it’s high time we as a people understood that fact and acted accordinly.
No one can say what the future has in store for this little girl. Sadly, Kalanit will most likely face difficult times. Down syndrome is not easy to live with, and anyone who has a loved one with the condition can attest to that. Yet, those with Down syndrome are not that different from those without it. Just because someone is ‘handicapped’ does not make them any less of a person. They still deserve to be loved and treated with respect.
During the final song in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods, the cast imparts a valuable lesson on the audience that I believe everyone should take to heart, “Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see and learn. Children may not obey, but children will listen. Children will look to you for which way to turn, to learn what to be. Careful before you say, ‘Listen to me.’ Children will listen.”
Children, like Kalanit, are listening. Let’s make sure they hear love and compassion, not hate and apathy.
If you’d like to learn more about ways you can help those with Down syndrome, please visit here.