The Case of Baby Doe

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JANUARY 08, 2012

This case of baby Doe was a complex case and a rare one too. It was unfortunate that by that time there were no laws guiding provisions of care as we do today. Today health care managers have more tools in their disposal to help them tackle the challenges of ethical dilemma issues. Both states and federal laws now makes health care managers more aware of ethical issues compared to 1970s, they now closely regulate cases like the one of baby Doe described in page 16 of our text of Ethics in Health Services Management by Darr (2011).

What makes the case of baby Doe an ethical dilemma? Before going into detail of the case of baby Doe, it is very important to understand the term ethical dilemma. According to Darr (2011), “ethical dilemmas occur when decision makers are drawn in two directions by the competing courses of the action that are based on differing moral frameworks, varying or inconsistent elements of the organizational philosophy, conflicting duties or moral principles, or an ill-defended sense of right and wrong.” Page 3

Respect for person is treating every person, as you would want to be treated, and from the case of baby, Doe both the parents and the hospital staffs did not exhibit respect for baby Doe because they allowed him to die without giving him the chance to undergo the surgical procedure offered by the doctors. Both the parents and the hospital knew that the surgery could help baby Doe but denied the surgery basing it on the mental retardation condition which according to the story was not even given time to be properly evaluated. According to Darr (2011), “respect for a person has four elements and the four elements are autonomy, this requires that one act toward others in ways that allow them be self-governing – to choose and pursue courses of action and to do so, a person must be rational and unforced. Other elements of respect for a person are truth telling, confidentiality, and fidelity which is doing one’s duties or keeping one’s word.” Page 28

Did the hospital/physicians allow the parent of Doe to be autonomous in their decision- making? The answer to the above question is yes and is because the physicians gave to the parents of Doe all the possibilities and probabilities of the surgical procedure. The procedure presented to the parents had high success rating for the duodenal atresia surgery which according to the physicians would help baby Doe get the necessary nourishment his body would need to survive but the because of his mental retardation condition the parents decided to deny him the procedure hence it resulted into baby Doe’s death. According Christman, John, "Autonomy in Moral and Political Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>. “Individual autonomy is define as an idea that is generally understood to refer to the capacity to be one's own person, to live one's life according to reasons and motives that are taken as one's own and not the product of manipulative or distorting external forces.” Retrieved from

Beauchamp, Tom, "The Principle of Beneficence in Applied Ethics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>. “Paternalism is defined as the...
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