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Autism risk from epilepsy drug not explained to mother during pregnancy, court hears

Boy (13), who was diagnosed with autism aged three, is suing a neurologist through his mother

A 13-year-old autistic boy is suing a neurologist alleging there was a failure to properly inform his mother about the risks that taking an epilepsy treatment drug during pregnancy could pose to her foetus.

It is claimed that if Jack Clarke’s mother, Elizabeth Elliot Clarke, had been warned about the known risks of autism from taking Epilim, she would have opted for alternative treatment.

As a result, it is claimed in High Court proceedings, Jack was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and has global developmental delay falling within the moderate range.

Through his mother, Jack, of Whitechurch Court, Rathfarnham, Dublin, is suing consultant neurologist Dr Raymond Murphy, of the Charlemont Clinic in Dublin. The claims are denied.

A second case has been brought by Jack’s younger brother, Tom, who was born in 2013, and whose autism diagnosis is less severe. That case will proceed later as an assessment of damages only as liability has been admitted.

Opening Jack’s case on Tuesday, Aongus O’Brolchain SC, instructed by Ciara McPhillips, partner in the Michael Boylan law firm, said Ms Elliot Clarke developed epilepsy at the age of 12 and became a patient of Dr Murphy at the age of 20 in 1999.

During her 14-year period as his patient, she was prescribed Epilim together with other drugs on occasion.
In 2000, counsel said, the doctor advised her that in the event of her becoming pregnant, there was a risk of the foetus developing spina bifida within the first 28 days but that the risk was low and that taking folic acid would reduce it.

She had her first child, Hanna, in 2007 and during the pregnancy expressed concern to Dr Murphy about the risk. However, as this was after the 28-day period, and therefore a past risk, he continued to prescribe Epilim.

When she became pregnant with Jack in 2008, he continued to prescribe the drug during pregnancy.

It is claimed the defendant did not discuss the risks associated with continuing to take it. Other than the risk of spina bifida, Dr Murphy did not discuss the possibility of neurodevelopmental impairments as a result of ingesting Epilim, it is alleged.

Mr O’Brolchain said Ms Elliot Clarke was never told about any other physical or mental issue associated with the drug, even though autism and Asperger’s Syndrome risks were known at the time and discussed in medical literature.

Jack was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and has various developmental delays and speech and language difficulties, counsel said.
“He is extraordinarily difficult to take care of and there is no doubt he will require care for the rest of his life,” counsel said.

An issue arose over an application by the Murphy side to amend its defence which the Clarke side objected to.

Mr Justice Paul Coffey agreed to allow the amendment but said this was subject to the Clarke side being allowed to raise the issue of prejudice later in the case.

The case continues.

Irish Times

February 2023