Wrong twin aborted in Australian mix-up

By Michael Cook

Editor’s note. This first appeared at www.bioedge.org/index.php/bioethics/bioethics_article/9853 and is reprinted with permission.

Australia has been rocked  by a “selective reduction” gone wrong at a leading Melbourne hospital. A woman was pregnant with twins whom she had already named. At 32 weeks doctors detected significant heart abnormalities in one of the twins and advised her to abort the child. He would have had to have years of operations if he survived at all.

However, despite a careful study of the ultrasound, the doctor gave the wrong twin a lethal injection. After they realised their mistake the staff, the live but ill twin was aborted. The woman was very distressed. “She went to the hospital with two babies and now she has none,” a friend told the Herald Sun. Three independent investigations have been launched into the incident.

As British bioethics writer Peter Saunders points out, the case illustrates the conundrums raised by the notion of “the wanted child”.

“It is interesting that the killing of an ‘unwanted’ child with special needs in the womb is regarded as ‘normal’ whilst the killing of a ‘wanted’ normal child is seen as a tragedy and worthy of international news coverage. And yet if the ‘abnormal’ baby had actually been born, doctors would presumably have done everything possible to provide what treatment or care they could. Of course if the second ‘normal’ child had also been ‘unwanted’ then the story would not have warranted a mention. Abortion of ‘unwanted’ ‘normal’ babies takes place over 40 million times every year around the world.”