Discretionary Non-Treatment of Defective Newborns

  • John A. Robertson


Developments during the last decade in neonatal intensive, are have drastically cut the infant mortality rate in the United States, and assured the survival of many infants who formerly would have died. Among the survivors are infants with spina bifida, Down’s syndrome, hydrocephalus and a variety of other congenital and genetic defects which substantially impair the infant’s capacity for full physical and social interaction. The reduction of neonatal death has thus starkly raised the question of whether the expected quality of life should influence treatment decisions, and whether intensive care resources may be withdrawn from newborns with minimal potential for a meaningful existence.


Spina Bifida External Cost Criminal Liability Parental Decision Duodenal Atresia 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Statement at the New York University Medical Center Conference on Spina Bifida, Skytop, PA., May 6, 1975.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a more complete analysis, see Robertson, J., Involuntary euthanasia of defective newborns: A legal analysis, Stanford Law Rev. 27: 213 (1975).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Duff, R.S. and Campbell, A.G.M., Moral and ethical dilemmas in the special care nursery, New Eng. J. Med. 289: 890 (1973).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
  5. 5.
    Jonsen, A.R., Phibbs, R.H., Tooley, W.H. et al, Issues in newborn intensive care: A conference report and policy proposal, Pediatrics 55: 756 (1975).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Hunt, G., Implications for the treatment of myelomeningocele for the child and his family, Lancet 2: 1308 (1973).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Unpublished study by Chester Swinyard, Et al.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ames, M.D. and Schut, L., Results of treatment of 171 consecutive myelomeningoceles, 1963 to 1968, Pediatrics 50: 466 (1972).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Statement at the New York University Medical Center Conference on Spina Bifida, Skytop, Pa., May 6, 1975.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Calabrese, G., Commentary, in Ethics of Health Care, L. Tancredi (ed.), Vol. 55 (197517Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Id. at 53.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Statement at the New York University Medical Center Conference on Spina Bifida, Skytop, Pa., May 6, 1975.Google Scholar
  13. It should be noted that the situation presented to pediatricians in the survey was whether they would operate when the parents requested that surgery not be done. Mary C. Howell, M.D., Ph.D. and Diane Krane collaborated with Dr. Todres in this research.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    I am grateful to Sylvia Law for a helpful discussion on this point.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    The argument can be made that non-treatment is chosen to benefit the infant, rather than others. While this argument would be strongest if treatment would only assure the infant a life of irremediable pain, I am assuming that this is not the ordinary case confronting parents and physicians, and that treatment would necessarily, from the infant’s perspective, be in its best interests.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • John A. Robertson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Wisconsin Law SchoolUSA

Personalised recommendations