Playing God in the Nursery Summary

Jeff Lyon

Playing God in the Nursery

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jeff Lyon presents both sides of the argument about whether multiply handicapped, critically ill infants who face a life of pain, handicaps, or life-threatening medical conditions should be saved by advanced medicine.

The reader is certain to react strongly to the description of the 1982 “Baby Doe” legal case, in which the parents of a Down’s syndrome child refused to grant permission for an operation which would save the baby’s life. Out of the protest that arose from this case came the Baby Doe ruling that every hospital nursery was required to display prominently, informing people of a toll-free number they could call if they knew of anyone refusing food and care to a newborn. The resulting flood of unjustified calls tied up doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators with interrogations that kept them from their primary responsibilities, so that the rule proved in the end to be detrimental to life-saving activities and was repealed.

The crucial issue, however, remains unresolved: Should parents be allowed to decide the fate of their children? The author includes case study after case study of birth defects, congenital diseases, premature birth difficulties, and so on that afflict children born today and the accompanying emotional and physical strain placed on families. The average reader may find the reading tedious in places because of the number of cases and the detail given. The good outweighs the bad, however, for Lyon presents a well-organized debate.

Lyon also gives attention to the history of infanticide and includes interviews with handicapped adults who tell about their lives. This is a serious, thought-provoking book about an issue which society must face.