The law broadens the definition of child abuse to include medical neglect of handicapped infants.

The Reagan administration is on the verge of winning a nearly two-year battle to ensure that handicapped infants receive adequate medical care. Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued regulations that require state action to prevent medical neglect of babies born with disabilities. The new rules specify that neglect includes the withholding of medical treatment, food, and water from handicapped newborns.

HHS based its regulations on last year’s congressional amendments to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974. Those amendments were passed unanimously by the Senate and by a 396-to-4 vote in the House. In essence, Congress broadened the definition of child abuse to include the withholding of medical care from handicapped infants.

The HHS regulations require states—within their own child protective systems—to adopt procedures by which to report and prosecute instances of medical negligence. Each state and federal jurisdiction is responsible for developing its own program. Those failing to comply by October will lose their share of $9 million in federal funds earmarked for state child-abuse programs.

Numerous medical, professional, and advocacy organizations took part in drafting the HHS document. Many of those same groups came together to issue the 1983 landmark statement “Principles of Treatment of Disabled Infants.” The new regulations are in large part an outgrowth of that statement.

Quoting the 1983 document, HHS affirms that “when medical care is clearly beneficial, it should always be provided” and that the “anticipated or actual limited ...

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