Wrongful-Conception Action

Wrongful-Conception Action
Wrongful-Conception Action
Quick Summary of Wrongful-Conception Action

A wrongful conception action, also known as a wrongful pregnancy action, is a lawsuit where a parent sues for damages caused by a pregnancy that occurred despite a failed sterilisation procedure or contraceptive method. In such cases, the parent may seek compensation for the expenses related to the pregnancy and childbirth, as well as any emotional distress or loss of income resulting from the unplanned pregnancy. This type of legal action can arise from medical errors or defects in contraceptive products, highlighting the potential consequences and damages faced by parents in these situations.

What is the dictionary definition of Wrongful-Conception Action?
Dictionary Definition of Wrongful-Conception Action

A wrongful conception action, also referred to as a wrongful pregnancy action, is a legal case initiated by a parent seeking compensation when a pregnancy happens despite a failed sterilisation. In such cases, the parent did not plan or desire to become pregnant and had taken precautions to prevent it, but the sterilisation procedure was ineffective.

Full Definition Of Wrongful-Conception Action

The concept of wrongful conception action arises from the broader category of medical negligence and is a relatively recent development in the field of tort law. Wrongful conception refers to a legal action brought by parents of an unplanned, yet healthy, child following a failed sterilisation procedure, contraceptive method, or abortion. This legal claim is fundamentally distinct from wrongful birth and wrongful life claims, which involve cases where a child is born with congenital disabilities due to medical negligence.

Historical Context

The evolution of wrongful conception claims can be traced back to the shifting landscape of reproductive rights and medical advancements in contraception and sterilisation techniques. Initially, the judiciary was reluctant to recognise claims for the birth of a healthy child, adhering to the principle that life, even with its associated costs, is a blessing. However, as societal norms evolved, so did the judicial approach to these cases.

Legal Foundation

The legal basis for wrongful conception claims in British law lies in the principles of negligence. To succeed in a wrongful-conception claim, the claimant must establish the following elements:

  1. Duty of Care: The medical practitioner owed a duty of care to the claimant.
  2. Breach of Duty: There was a breach of that duty through negligent action or omission.
  3. Causation: The breach of duty caused the conception and subsequent birth of the child.
  4. Damages: The claimant suffered quantifiable damages as a result.

Key Cases

Several landmark cases have shaped the legal landscape of wrongful conception in the UK:

  1. McFarlane v. Tayside Health Board [2000] UKHL 50: In this seminal case, the House of Lords denied the claim for the cost of raising a healthy child born after a negligently performed vasectomy. The court recognised that while the birth was the result of negligence, the costs associated with raising the child could not be recovered as damages. The judgment was based on the view that the benefits of having a healthy child outweigh the financial costs, reflecting a moral stance on the sanctity of life.
  2. Rees v. Darlington Memorial Hospital NHS Trust [2003] UKHL 52: This case modified the approach taken in McFarlane. Ms Rees, a visually impaired woman, underwent a sterilisation procedure that was performed negligently, resulting in the birth of a healthy child. The House of Lords awarded a conventional sum of £15,000 for the claimant’s loss of autonomy, acknowledging the impact of the failed sterilisation on her personal circumstances.
  3. Parkinson v. St James and Seacroft University Hospital NHS Trust [2001] EWCA Civ 530: This case involved the birth of a child with severe disabilities following a failed sterilisation. The Court of Appeal allowed recovery for the additional costs associated with the child’s disability, distinguishing it from McFarlane on the grounds that the costs were not merely those of raising a child, but specific to the disability resulting from the medical negligence.

Legal Principles and Policy Considerations

Several principles and policy considerations underpin the judicial approach to wrongful-conception actions:

  1. The Sanctity of Life: Courts have consistently recognised the inherent value of life, making it challenging to quantify the costs of raising a healthy child as damages. This principle serves as a moral backdrop, influencing judicial reluctance to award extensive damages.
  2. Autonomy and Choice: The decision in Rees highlighted the importance of autonomy, acknowledging that failed sterilisation impacts the individual’s control over reproductive choices. The conventional award for loss of autonomy reflects the court’s recognition of personal autonomy as a significant interest.
  3. Fairness and Justice: Courts strive to balance fairness and justice in these claims. Awarding damages for the birth of a healthy child is viewed as potentially unjust, as it may imply that the child’s life is a compensable harm. Conversely, recognising the additional costs in cases involving disabilities ensures that the financial burden resulting from negligence is appropriately addressed.

Damages in Wrongful Conception Claims

The assessment of damages in wrongful-conception claims is nuanced and case-specific. Generally, courts consider the following factors:

  1. Medical Expenses: Costs incurred due to the failed procedure, including additional medical treatments and corrective surgeries.
  2. Loss of Earnings: Compensation for any loss of earnings resulting from pregnancy and childbirth.
  3. Pain and Suffering: Non-economic damages for the physical and emotional impact of the unplanned pregnancy.
  4. Loss of Autonomy: As established in Rees, a conventional award recognises the infringement on personal autonomy.
  5. Costs of Raising a Child with Disabilities: In cases where the child is born with disabilities, courts may award damages for the additional costs associated with the disability.

Comparative Jurisprudence

Comparing the UK’s approach to wrongful conception with other jurisdictions reveals differing perspectives:

  1. United States: In the US, wrongful-conception claims are generally recognised, with courts more willing to award damages for the costs of raising a child. However, the approach varies significantly across states, with some jurisdictions allowing full recovery, while others limit or deny such claims.
  2. Australia: Australian courts have been more receptive to awarding damages for the costs of raising a child, similar to the US. However, the High Court of Australia in Cattanach v. Melchior (2003) 215 CLR 1 upheld the right to recover the costs associated with raising a healthy child, marking a departure from the UK’s restrictive stance.
  3. Canada: Canadian courts have shown a mixed approach, with some jurisdictions allowing claims for the costs of raising a child and others aligning with the UK’s reluctance. The decision in Dobson (Litigation Guardian of) v. Dobson [1999] 2 SCR 753 reflects a cautious approach, emphasising policy considerations similar to those in the UK.

Ethical and Social Implications

The recognition of wrongful-conception claims raises several ethical and societal implications:

  1. Value of Life: Quantifying the costs of raising a healthy child as damages can be perceived as placing a monetary value on human life, leading to moral and ethical dilemmas.
  2. Parental Responsibilities: Awarding damages for raising a child may undermine the concept of parental responsibility, suggesting that financial burdens can negate the inherent value of parenthood.
  3. Impact on Medical Practice: Fear of litigation may influence medical practitioners’ approach to sterilisation and contraceptive procedures, potentially leading to defensive medical practices.

Future Directions

The legal landscape of wrongful-conception actions is likely to evolve in response to changing societal attitudes and advancements in medical technology. Future developments may include:

  1. Increased Recognition of Autonomy: Courts may further recognise the importance of reproductive autonomy, potentially leading to higher conventional awards for loss of autonomy.
  2. Refinement of Damages Assessment: Judicial approaches to assessing damages may become more sophisticated, considering a wider range of factors and personal circumstances.
  3. Legislative Interventions: Legislatures may introduce statutory frameworks to provide clearer guidelines for wrongful-conception claims, balancing the interests of claimants and societal values.


Wrongful-conception actions occupy a complex and evolving niche within tort law, reflecting the interplay between legal principles, ethical considerations, and societal values. The UK’s cautious approach, emphasising the sanctity of life and parental responsibility, contrasts with more liberal stances in jurisdictions like the US and Australia. As societal norms and medical practices continue to evolve, so too will the legal frameworks governing wrongful-conception, requiring a delicate balance between recognising legitimate claims and upholding fundamental values.

Wrongful-Conception Action FAQ'S

A wrongful-conception action is a legal claim brought by parents who allege that they would not have conceived or given birth to a child if not for the negligence or wrongful act of another party.

Common situations that can lead to a wrongful-conception action include failed sterilization procedures, incorrect prenatal testing results, or the failure to provide adequate contraception advice or products.

Damages that can be sought in a wrongful-conception action may include medical expenses related to the pregnancy and birth, emotional distress, loss of income, and the cost of raising the child.

Yes, both parents can bring a wrongful-conception action if they can demonstrate that they suffered harm as a result of the wrongful conception.

Yes, a wrongful-conception action can be brought against a healthcare provider if their negligence or wrongful act led to the conception of a child.

Yes, a wrongful-conception action can be brought against a pharmaceutical company if their product, such as a faulty contraceptive, caused the conception of a child.

In some cases, a wrongful-conception action can be brought against a sperm or egg donor if they provided inaccurate information or failed to disclose relevant medical history that led to the conception of a child.

The time limit for filing a wrongful-conception action varies depending on the jurisdiction. It is important to consult with a lawyer to determine the applicable statute of limitations.

Yes, a wrongful-conception action can still be brought even if the child is born with disabilities. However, the damages sought may differ, focusing more on the additional costs and challenges associated with raising a child with disabilities.

The likelihood of success in a wrongful-conception action depends on various factors, including the strength of the evidence, the applicable laws in the jurisdiction, and the specific circumstances of the case. Consulting with an experienced attorney can provide a better understanding of the chances of success in a particular situation.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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