The Health and Human Services Department's new "Baby Doe" regulation, requiring the 6,800 hospitals that receive federal funds to give handicapped infants the same care as non-handicapped, was praised by advocates for the disabled and right-to-life groups yesterday. But an attorney for a group that successfully challenged the original rule said the new version has "serious problems."

Elizabeth B. Derter, one of the attorneys who represented the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the new rule "is not really that different" from the old one requiring hospitals to post notices, including a toll-free "hot line" telephone number for complaints about a hospital that doesn't feed or care for a handicapped infant.

The new rule requires that the notices be placed in nurses' stations instead of being on public view in the maternity, pediatric and intensive care wards. Derter said, "We have serious concerns with the presence of a sign like that in hospitals."

The new version is being issued as a notice of proposed rule-making, and may be altered after a 60-day comment period.

At a news conference, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said that in the past two weeks HHS had investigated complaints about non-treatment of three infants, and that in each case "the fact they were under investigation caused the hospitals to reassess their position."