The spinal column is the central structure in the vertebrate body from which stability, movement, and posture all derive. The vertebrae of the spine are organized into four regions (listed in order from cranial to caudal): cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and pelvic. These regions are classified by their differences in curvature. The human spine usually consists of thirty-three vertebrae, seven of which are cervical (C1-C7), twelve are thoracic (T1-T12), five are lumbar (L1-L5), and nine are pelvic (five fused as the sacrum and four fused as the coccyx).

The New York Court of Appeals' 1983 case Weber v. Stony Brook set an important precedent upholding the right of parents to make medical decisions for newborns born with severe congenital defects. A pro-life New York attorney, Lawrence Washburn, attempted to legally intervene in the case of Baby Jane Doe, an infant born with disorders. When the infant's parents chose palliative care over intensive corrective surgery, Washburn made repeated attempts to have the New York courts force through the surgery. The Court of Appeals ultimately ruled not only that Washburn had overstepped his authority, but also that the parents' decision was a medically and legally valid one. The Weber case set an important standard for protecting the rights of parents and limiting the rights of government to make medical decisions for infants with severe congenital defects.

The case of Smith v. Cote (1986) answered two important questions concerning law and childbirth: does the State of New Hampshire recognize a cause of action for what is defined as wrongful birth, and does the State recognize a cause of action for what is classified as wrongful life? In the case of Smith v. Cote, damages were permitted for wrongful birth, but not for the action of wrongful life.

The Baby Doe Rules represent the first attempt by the US government to directly intervene in treatment options for neonates born with congenital defects. The name of the rule comes from the controversial 1982 case of a Bloomington, Indiana infant Baby Doe, a name coined by the media. The Baby Doe Rules mandate that, as a requirement for federal funding, hospitals and physicians must provide maximal care to any impaired infant, unless select exceptions are met. If a physician or parent chooses to withhold full treatment when the exceptions are not met, they are liable for medical neglect. After a prolonged legal battle, President Ronald Reagan signed the law on 9 October 1984 as an amendment to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1974. Since then, the Baby Doe Rules have influenced both the parents' right to make medical decisions for their child and the way laws can affect treatment options in the US.

The US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals' 1984 decision United States v. University Hospital, State University Hospital of New York at Stony Brook set a significant precedent for affirming parental privilege to make medical decisions for handicapped newborns, while limiting the ability of the federal government to intervene. The ruling stemmed from the 1983 case involving an infant born with severe physical and mental congenital defects; the infant was only identified as Baby Jane Doe. After her parents opted against corrective surgery for some of her deformities, Baby Jane Doe became the epicenter of a national right-to-life debate that had been previously sparked one year prior with the case of Baby Doe, an Indiana infant born with similarly severe handicaps.

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