Failure to Warn of Genetic Problem

The Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota has held that a physician has an affirmative duty to inform a child’s biological parents about the risks posed by their child’s genetic problem.

The plaintiff’s child was born with an inheritable form of mental retardation known as “Fragile X.” The parents were told that the condition was probably not genetic and the child’s doctors did not do full genetic testing on the child. The parents then had a second child born with the same condition. Later testing revealed that both children and the parents were carriers of Fragile X.

The court recognized that the parents had a right to sue their daughter’s doctors for negligently performing genetic testing. They said that “a physician’s duty regarding genetic testing and diagnosis exends beyond the patient to biological parents who foreseeabily may be harmed by breach of that duty.” The ruling recognizes that as a “practical reality … genetic testing and diagnosis does not affect only the patient.” Read the decision by clicking here.

This is a fascinating opinion, one that demonstrates that the law is a living organism. The fact of the matter is that medical errors can result in harm to persons other than the patient. It is the job of our tort system to define where the line of duty to others should be drawn.