The Oklahoma Department of Human Services yesterday denied any wrongdoing in handling infants born with birth defects and asked that a team of outside experts review a state-run hospital's care of the severely handicapped.
The Oklahoma Children's Memorial Hospital was accused earlier this month of allowing two dozen infants born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the infant's spine is not closed, to die because lifesaving surgery was withheld. The formula used to determine eligibility for treatment allegedly consisted of an equation based on the infant's mental and physical condition as well as the parents' financial status. The allegations were reported in The Washington Post May 9.
Groups representing the retarded and disabled and the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file a class-action lawsuit unless the hospital's alleged policy was rescinded.
In a signed affidavit, however, a team of doctors at the hospital said that the "team does not now nor to any member's knowledge have they ever made any recommendation to a family on the basis of a quality-of-life formula, race, economic status, or any other nonmedical consideration." The affidavit accompanied the Oklahoma Department of Human Services report.
Thomas Marzen, of the National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent and Disabled, based in Indianapolis, said his organization was "pleased that they appear to agree that the use of 'quality-of-life' criteria are utterly inappropriate in making medical decisions for children with disabilities."
The hospital was mentioned in a 1983 article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to James Bopp, head of the legal center.
The article, written by children's hospital physicians, described the treatment of 69 newborns with spina bifida and other birth defects between 1977 and 1982. Of the 69, 36 were given extensive treatment and surgery, and all lived. Twenty-four others were not operated on and all died within about six months.