Justice and the Defective Newborn

  • Albert R. Jonsen
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 8)


Neonatology, the care of the critically ill newborn, is a new subspecialty of pediatrics. The first examination to certify specialists in neonatology was held in 1975. Even before this formal recognition of the specialty, ominous ethical clouds were gathering around it. Two years before, pediatricians Raymond Duff and A. G. M. Campbell reported that, in their newborn intensive care nursery, treatment was deliberately discontinued for some infants “with the knowledge that earlier death and relief from suffering would occur” ([3], p. 891). In the same year, a film, produced by the Kennedy Foundation, dramatized a case which had taken place ten years earlier: a newborn infant, suffering from Down’s Syndrome, was allowed to die after its parents refused permission for life-saving surgery [8]. A quiet debate over the treatment of infants born with spina bifida had been going on during the previous decade and then broke into public view [6]. All this caught the attention of philosophers and theologians interested in the ethics of medicine, who then poured out a flood of literature on ethical issues in care of the defective newborn.


Typical Case Spina Bifida Paradigmatic Case Ethical Discussion Duodenal Atresia 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Albert R. Jonsen
    • 1
  1. 1.School of MedicineUniversity of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA

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