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The Melchior decision devalues the experience of raising children

By John Anderson - posted Tuesday, 5 August 2003

I am deeply concerned by the High Court's decision to require a surgeon and the Queensland health department to meet the cost of bringing up a child following a failed sterilisation operation.

Kerry and Craig Melchior successfully sued the doctor and the health department for negligence and were very properly awarded more than $100,000 in compensation for the unplanned pregnancy. The Court's decision related to the cost of raising their son, Jordan, to age 18, which was estimated at a further $105,000.

The decision raises critical questions about the value we place on our children. It also raises further issues about medical indemnity.


It is repugnant that the birth of a healthy child, like Jordan, should be the subject of damages. Children are a gift from above, not an economic burden that can be enumerated and tabulated.

Looking after our children is the hardest job any of us will ever do but it is also the most rewarding. The joy, outright responsibility to the child and society, and satisfaction far exceeds any economic considerations.

Instead, the Court has found that Jordan's birth was a basis for compensation, like a car crash or an accident in the workplace. I can't help wondering what Jordan will think in later life when he discovers that his parents demanded compensation for his Christmas and birthday presents because he was born against their wishes.

The Court's decision is a further sign of the trend in our society towards regarding our children as a consumer durable there for our pleasure, rather like an expensive fridge or a new DVD player. Children do not come with an extended warranty or a money-back guarantee. Our lives as parents do not always turn out the way we expect, and it is totally unreasonable to expect society or the medical profession to pay compensation for the normal disappointments and surprises of a full life.

Any weakening of the responsibility of parents to carefully and lovingly nurture children brought into the world strikes at the precepts on which our society and its freedoms are built. Every individual matters; their lives are not a commodity to be valued and treated according to our own convenience. Every individual has an intrinsic value and dignity.

Have we so lost sight of the sanctity of life - and the enormous joy and privilege of nurturing emotionally and physically vulnerable children - that we cannot see the importance of treating them as more that mere commodities?


Do we no longer understand that when we devalue and cheapen one life, we devalue and cheapen all life - and with it threaten our cherished freedoms?

The Federal government does not have responsibility for the law of negligence; however, I believe we must all take a searching look at ourselves and decide what we value most.

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About the Author

Hon John Anderson is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Leader of the National Party and the Member for Gwydir (NSW).

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