Baby Boy Doe Case Study

The case study discusses a real-life ethical dilemma that faced medical professionals at the Blooming Hospital in Indiana. In 1982, a baby was born with two life-threatening conditions; tracheoesophageal fistula and Down’s syndrome (Darr, 2011). Surgeons had the ability to correct the birth defects through surgery but the baby’s obstetrician advised the parents to deny the baby food and water, so that he could die of starvation and dehydration, as he had Down’s syndrome and his quality of life would be poor. The baby subsequently died, and future litigation on the case supported the doctor’s decision. This paper will analyze the ethical dilemma facing the health professionals who cared for Bay Boy Doe. 

What Makes the Case an Ethical Dilemma?

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According to Darr (2011), an ethical dilemma is a situation where there are two possible moral choices, neither of which is clearly preferable or acceptable. It is also a situation where a decision has to be made by professionals, between two equally undesirable choices.  The Baby Boy Doe case study is an ethical dilemma since the parents and healthcare professionals faced two equally undesirable alternatives in the treatment of their patient. The first alternative would have been to treat the baby and expose him to a poor quality of life into adulthood, or to withhold treatment and facilitate the death of a baby. 

Implications of Case Study in Terms of Moral Principles Discussed in the Chapter

There are various healthcare principles which have been discussed in the class text and the first is beneficence, which means that healthcare professionals should perform actions which promote good (Darr, 2011). In the case study, the healthcare professionals did not promote ‘good’, since they harmed the baby and did not offer him a chance of surviving and benefiting from future medical advances. The second principle is nonmaleficence and it means not doing harm to patients. In the case study, the hospital harmed the baby by withholding food and water, and they therefore breached this principle. The third principle is respect for persons, and it entails allowing patients or their caregivers to have autonomy over the treatment process (Tauber, 2015). In the case study, the parents were allowed to choose whether to treat the baby or not, and they opted for the latter. The hospital therefore observed this principle. Finally, the last principle is justice and it entails treating patients fairly. In the case study, the hospital did not act justly since it did not protect the baby’s right to life. By withholding intravenous feeding of the baby, it directly contributed towards the baby’s death (Darr, 2011). 

Whether Hospital Did All it Could Under the Circumstances

The hospital did not act appropriately under the circumstances since it disregarded most of the moral principles that guide healthcare practice. The principles such as nonmaleficence and beneficence require hospitals to work towards safeguarding the welfare of the patient and protecting him/her from harm (Beauchamp & Childress, 2011). The Blooming Hospital disregarded these principles by withholding treatment and allowing the baby to die. Moreover, surgeons at the time could accurately correct the birth defect and this means that the health of the baby would have significantly improved. Even though the parents opted for treatment to be withheld, they were acting on the advice of their obstetrician (Darr, 2011). Other professionals within the hospital could have advised the parents against making the decision by providing the numerous alternatives that existed at the time, including putting the baby up for adoption. The hospital therefore breached its duty to patients by breaching principles that guide healthcare practice. 


In summary, the Blooming Hospital failed to apply moral and ethical principles when treating Baby Boy Doe. It allowed withholding of treatment that led to the death of the baby, even though surgical interventions would have protected the baby’s welfare. Even though litigation in the case failed to hold the hospital officials accountable, the case led to amendment of the law to criminalize withholding treatment against patients. 


Beauchamp, T. L. & Childress, J. F. (2011). Principles of Biomedical Ethics. New York: 

Oxford University Press.

Darr, K. (2011). Ethics in Health Services Management. (5th Edition). Baltimore, MD: 

Health Professions Press, Inc.

Tauber, A. I. (2015). Patient autonomy and the ethics of responsibility. Cambridge: MIT 


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