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Is it better not to have been born?

By Jim Holt   December 2001

Late last autumn, France’s highest court handed down a ruling of great moral and even metaphysical interest. The court declared that a 17-year-old boy was entitled to compensation for being born. Because he contracted German measles from his mother while she was pregnant with him-both a doctor and a laboratory failed to diagnose her illness-the boy is deaf, mentally retarded and nearly blind.

From the parents’ point of view, the court’s decision makes eminent sense. Had they known about the measles and the associated risks to the foetus, they could have aborted, waited a few months and then started another…

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