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Starvation of newborns with Down syndrome shocks America
"Our nation’s commitment to equal protection of the law will have little meaning if we deny such protection to those who have not been blessed with the same physical or mental gifts we too often take for granted." - President Ronald Reagan, 1982
On April 9, 1982, a baby boy was born in Indiana. Because he had Down syndrome and a malformed esophagus (the malformed esophagus is a relatively common problem and easy to correct with surgery), his parents allowed him to be starved to death. "Baby Doe" died at 10:03 p.m. on April 15, 1982.
Shockingly, this kind of treatment of disabled newborns was a relatively common practice at the time. However, the case of Baby Doe, and the high-profile court challenge that accompanied it, shed light on the practice of starving and denying medically indicated treatment to such newborns.
President Reagan demands protection for newborns
Shortly after the fate of Baby Doe became public, President Ronald Reagan and Congressional leaders started to look for ways to ensure that Baby Doe’s fate didn’t become the fate of other disabled newborns.
Less than a year after the short life of Baby Doe, new federal rules were released mandating that hospitals receiving federal aid must provide disabled babies with the same quality care that would be given to other infants. Unfortunately, the rules were struck down by the courts. Additional federal rules were issued by the Reagan administration, and fought for in the courts for the next couple years.
Congress, Minnesota pass laws protecting disabled newborns
It was not until October 9, 1984, that President Reagan was able to sign into law new regulations requiring that standard care be provided to disabled infants. The provision stipulated that "withholding of medically indicated treatment" was a form of child abuse and required states that received federal funds for child abuse programs to set up procedures to protect "disabled infants with life-threatening conditions."
The Minnesota Legislature passed the Baby Doe Law in May 1985 to conform to the new federal requirements.
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