US seeks to intervene in Baby Jane Doe case
The Reagan administration has stepped deeply into a new right-to-life controversy, seeking to intervene on behalf of a baby diagnosed as handicapped whose parents, in consultation with physicians, decided against corrective surgery.
In its action Wednesday, the Justice Department told a federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., that it needed immediate access to the infant's medical records to determine whether her life was in imminent danger because the hospital had not provided corrective surgery. The Justice Department said that by refusing the government access to the records, the hospital violated terms under which state-affiliated institutions receive federal aid for the handicapped.
A Justice Department spokesman said the administration move, which has strongly supported so-called pro-life forces, was its first legal action in a birth-defect case. The controversy concerns an infant known as Baby Jane Doe born in New York several weeks ago.
Doctors at Stony Brook Hospital, a state-affiliated institution that receives federal assistance, had estimated the baby would remain severely retarded and bedridden for life even if surgery were performed. After the baby's parents decided to forgo the operation, a trial court in Albany, N.Y., ordered the hospital to perform the surgery, but the decision was stayed by an appeals court. Last week the New York State Supreme Court upheld the parents' decision and declared the lawsuit, brought originally by an attorney with no connections to the family, offensive. The court said it did not want to meddle in what it considered a family matter.