The controversy over nontreatment of handicapped newborns arises in a context of criminal and civil law, against which the current controversy has unfolded. This article examines the legal setting and background under traditional criminal and civil law concepts of nontreatment of handicapped newborns. It focuses on substantive principles of law, showing that nontreatment would be legally permitted when treatment could not be reasonably said to be in the interest of the patient involved, and that nontreatment could be considered criminal where treatment would serve patient interests. It then relates this analysis to procedural issues and the federal Baby Doe legislation and regulations that have recently emerged.

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