The cases of Baby Doe in Bloomington, Indiana and that of Baby Jane Doe in New York demonstrate to what degree the respect for human life has been eroded even after birth.
In both cases, court decisions supported the parents’ wishes see their disabled children die. In the case of Indiana, it resulted in death by starvation. In the New York case, the parents were only required to provide comfort while they waited for their child to die. In this case, however, the child survived.
Both cases provide examples of how the abortion on-demand mentality has infected the American legal system. Instead of being welcomed into life and protected by law, many disabled children are seen as “burdens” to be disposed of as others see fit.
Baby Doe in Bloomington, Indiana
In 1982, a Bloomington, Indiana child with Down’s Syndrome was born with a connection between his food-pipe and windpipe, a condition know as trachea-esophageal fistula. This prevented the child from being fed since food could not reach the stomach.
A routine operation could have been performed by several surgeons in a 50-mile radius. Because the child had Down’s Syndrome, the parents refused to grant permission to operate and had decided to starve the child to death. When word of the situation became public, a dozen families came forward and offered to adopt the baby.
The parents refused. Though it would have cost them no money, time or effort to allow someone else to raise their child, the parents, their doctors and the Supreme Court of Indiana said they had the right to starve the child to death.
The child died seven days after birth, before the U.S. Supreme Court could hear an appeal to the Indiana decision.
In addition to the horrible injustice, another troubling aspect of this case was the the reaction by pediatricians and pediatric surgeons. More than two-thirds stated that they would go along with the parents’ wishes to deny life-saving surgery to a child with Down’s Syndrome. Almost 75% said that if they had a child with Down’s Syndrome, they would let the baby starve to death.
This case, along with that of Baby Jane Doe in New York motivated Congress to pass legislation in 1984 prohibiting the withholding of “medically indicated” treatment from any disabled newborn.
Baby Jane Doe in New York
The Case of Baby Jane Doe is a sobering example of the lengths to which abortion-on-demand has corrupted our culture with the message: “If you don’t want your child, it is acceptable to kill her through abandonment, neglect, or abortion.” Sadly, children ‹ especially those with mental or physical disabilities ‹ are often seen as burdens to be disposed of rather than gifts for which we are called to care.
The parents of Baby Jane Doe were apparently ready to give permission to doctors to perform a surgical procedure to close the spinal defect with which she was born and to place a shunt to prevent hydrocephalus (water head). When they were told that the baby could be mentally retarded, they changed their minds and refused surgery. Without closure, the infant would die from recurrent meningitis infections which would enter through her open spine. Several such infections did occur.
Unlike the case of Baby Doe in Indiana, the parents could not starve the child to death, but a New York court ruled that the parents could treat the child “passively” with adequate food, antibiotics and dressings. In other words, all the parents were obligated to do was to keep the child comfortable while they waited for her death.
However, the little girl’s skin spontaneously grew over the spinal defect about three months later, closing it. The parents then consented to the placement of the shunt. Prior to this consent, the federal government and a private attorney had attempted to step in and have the surgery authorized without parental consent. The following timeline outlines these efforts, which ultimately led to the passage of the federal Child Abuse Amendments of 1984:
Oct. 11, 1983: Baby Jane Doe is born at University Hospital at Stony Brook, New York. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services receives a hotline complaint that Baby Jane Doe may be a victim of denial of medically beneficial care for her spina-bifida (an opening in the spinal column).
Oct. 1983: The first physician who examines Baby Jane Doe recommends surgery. The first judge who hears the evidence orders surgery. Her parents refuse to consent and receive court approval to pursue custodial care only. During the ensuing court battle, Baby Jane Doe undergoes surgery, which will allow her to talk, laugh, and attend school in a wheelchair in the future.
Nov.17, 1983: HHS, denied access to the medical records by University Hospital, is forced to commence legal action to obtain the medical records for Baby Jane Doe and is denied the records by the Federal District Court.
Feb. 23, 1984: A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, rules 2-1 that the government may not have access to the medical records of Baby Jane Doe, saying that Congress had not intended Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to apply to cases involving denial of medical treatment to handicapped newborns.
May 8, 1984: The Justice Department files a request with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals asking the entire 12 member court to rehear the government’s Baby Jane Doe case.
Mar. 13, 1984: The American Medical Association and five other medical groups file suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to invalidate the Administration’s new Baby Doe regulation on the basis of the 2nd Circuit decision, claiming that efforts to investigate “alleged discrimination in treatment decisions involving impaired new born infants” are contrary to congressional intent. The judge delays ruling on the regulation, but issues a verbal warning against enforcement of the regulation in the meantime. (AHA & AMA v. Heckler)
May 17, 1984: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals denies the Justice Department’s request for rehearing the Baby Jane Doe case.
May 23, 1984: U.S. District Court Southern District of New York grants summary judgment in AHA & AMA v. Heckler invalidating the Administration’s Baby Doe regulation saying that they were promulgated without statutory authority.
June 11, 1984: The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issues its final injunction order against the Baby Doe regulation, declaring it “invalid and unlawful” and halting any further implementation of the regulation, including any investigation of charges of medical neglect of handicapped newborns.
July 26, 1984: The Baby Doe provisions of the Child Abuse Amendments of 1984 pass the U.S. Senate by a voice vote.
Aug. 17, 1984: The Justice Department decides to drop efforts to obtain medical records of Baby Jane Doe, but appeals injunction against Baby Doe regulation to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. (AHA & AMA v. Heckler)
Oct. 9, 1984: President Reagan signs the Child Abuse Amendments of 1984, making it illegal for doctors to withhold nourishment or medically indicated treatments unless the infant is comatose, the treatment will promote its death or is “futile in terms of the survival of the infant.”
Dec. 10, 1984: In order to implement the Baby Doe provisions of the Child Abuse Amendments of 1984, HHS publishes a proposed regulation which closely follows the expressed intent of Congress. Receipt of federal funds for child abuse programs will be dependent on the states assuring that denial of ordinary medical treatment for handicapped babies will be treated as a form of child abuse or neglect and responded to accordingly with legal remedies.
Jan.15, 1986: The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the AHA & AMA v. Bowen case (formerly AHA & AMA v. Heckler). At issue is whether the civil rights statute for the handicapped, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, applies to medical treatment decisions for handicapped newborns.
June 9, 1986: The Supreme Court of the United States rules in favor of the AMA and AHA and affirms the decision of the Court of Appeals indicating that HHS regulations are invalid. In its decision, the court stated that “Section 504 does not authorize the Secretary (of HHS) to give unsolicited advice either to parents, to hospitals, or to state officials who are faced with difficult treatment decisions concerning handicapped children.”