The ramifications of SB 1359: Are parents left in the dark?

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Zoe Lihn was born with half a heart. By Jennifer Thomas Zoe Lihn was born with half a heart. By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Pregnancy is an exciting time for couples, but there's a debate brewing in Arizona on just how much information doctors should be giving couples.

“She [Zoe] chases her sister and spills stuff and screams,” said Zoe's dad, Caleb Lihn.

Life is never boring in the Lihn family.

“She's doing everything normal that a normal 2-year-old would do, and actually I think she's a little advanced,” said Stacey Lihn, Zoe's mom.

It's something the Lihns cherish every day, considering their youngest daughter was born with half a heart. The deformity was discovered during a routine ultrasound.

“When offered termination, I was about 20 weeks along and it was not something that we were willing to do,” Stacey said.

“We want to try and help her fight through this thing,” Caleb said.

Without that early diagnosis, Zoe's parents believe things could have turned out much differently. But what about those who don't get the medical information needed on their unborn child?

A new controversial bill sitting on Gov. Jan Brewer's desk could take away a parent's ability to sue if they claim a medical professional failed to diagnose a fetal birth defect in time for an abortion.

“SB 1359 is essentially saying that we need to draw a line and if they simply missed the diagnosis and the only harm that their claiming is the baby being born, you can't bring that lawsuit,” Josh Kredit said.

Kredit is legislative counsel with the Center for Arizona Policy. Nine other states already prohibit lawsuits known as wrongful life and wrongful birth.

“This bill came from the fact that these lawsuits send the wrong message,” Kredit said. “They say we believe someone with different disabilities is worth less than others without disabilities.”

The bill also looks to prevent unnecessary lawsuits against doctors who have done nothing wrong.

“Medical malpractice laws are unique in Arizona, because our Legislature has put certain steps in place to make them harder or more difficult to file,” Caleb said. “And as a result you have to jump some hurdles and they're expensive cases to bring.”

But in the event of gross negligence or intentional action, “So a doctor has a certain stance on abortion and intentionally holds information, they can still bring that lawsuit against the doctor,” Kredit said.

“What's frightening to me is this bill almost gives a green light to physicians to be negligent or not watch their back perhaps as closely as they would if the parent did have recourse,” Stacey said.

There are two different sides in a much-heated debate.

“So we're trying to say as a matter of public policy, the State of Arizona values all life and you cannot bring these lawsuits,” Kredit said.

“The fact of the matter is that abortion in this country is legal,” Caleb said. “While you don't have to be for it, it's the law and passing 1359, what it does is create a situation where the providers don't have to be medical providers. It just takes a layer of protection out for the families.”

Sen. Nancy Barto sponsored the bill. 

For more information, visit www.azpolicy.org.