Parents Say They Would Have Considered Abortion, Want To Sue For Medical Malpractice

Nov 16, 2016

A couple is asking the Iowa Supreme Court to allow them to sue Fort Dodge Community Hospital for the costs of their son’s past, present and future care. Pamela and Jeremy Plowman say because doctors failed to diagnose abnormalities of their fetus, the couple lacked the necessary information to consider abortion.

The hospital argues since it didn’t cause the child's congenital defects, it’s not responsible for his care. Additionally, the Fort Dodge Community Hospital contends that in Iowa, parents can't sue just because a child is born.

Wayne Willoughby, the Plowmans' attorney, told the court this case isn't about abortion or birth. Rather it's about medical malpractice and the lifetime of emotional and financial burdens the Plowmans face in caring for a child with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, seizures and microcephaly. 

"My clients' child is going to spend the rest of his life 100 percent dependent on others, he's never going to be able to care for himself," Willoughby told the justices. "My clients are never going to watch their child walk, my clients are never going to watch their child communicate normally." 

Attorney Nancy Penner, who represents the hospital, says since the case now centers on a living child it doesn't matter if at one time the Plowmans might have considered abortion. She argues that's because Iowa code only allows parents to sue in the case of a child's injury or death.

"They do not claim that this physician caused any injury for the child," says Penner. "The child's condition is apparently what the child inherited from parents."

In a 1984 case, Nanke v. Napier, court found that parents can't sue after an unsuccessful abortion that results in the birth of a "normal, healthy child." This leaves the door open for the Plowmans' tort claim, based on their son's "severe and permanent neurologic conditions." 

If the Plowmans are successful, they can proceed with the suit in district court.