Does an obstetrician have a duty of care to an unborn child?

A Guelph hospital, citing a 2008 court decision that found a doctor had no such obligation in the case of a girl born with birth defects because of an acne drug prescribed to her mother, says no.

But the family of another child say yes.

The issue will be argued today in a London, Ont., courtroom. The Liebig family has brought a motion before the courts on behalf of their 8-year-old son, Kevin, born with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, or brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation.

He has since been diagnosed with cerebral palsy — the result, his family says, of negligence on the part of three obstetricians and four obstetrical nurses at the birthing unit of Guelph General Hospital.

The Liebigs claim that the mother, Susan, was given too much of the drug oxytocin to speed up labour and then not adequately monitored.

The defendants deny the allegations, which have not been proven in court.

The family’s lawyer, Barbara Legate, says the defendants are claiming to have no duty toward an unborn child.

“I think that’s a jaw-dropping proposition and I bet you that most obstetricians wouldn’t agree,” Legate says.

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