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Abortion Law Cited in Life-Support Case

May 21, 2000|From Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Four terminally ill newborns were kept on life support at a state-run hospital against their parents' wishes out of fears that doctors could be charged with murder under Missouri's new law banning a type of late-term abortion, the babies' attending physician said.

"We are in legal straitjackets with our hands tied behind our backs," said Dr. John Pardalos, a specialist in neonatal intensive care at University Hospital and Clinics in Columbia.

All four infants, born since the passage of the 1999 law, eventually died while on ventilators to assist their breathing, Pardalos said. Some died in just a few days, but one lived 2 1/2 weeks.

The new law, meant to ban what opponents call "partial-birth" abortion, makes doctors guilty of "infanticide" if they purposely cause a living infant's death "by an overt act performed when the infant is partially born or born." The crime is equivalent to second-degree murder.

Part of the law's definition of a "living infant" is a child "who has not attained the age of 30 days post-birth."

The abortion foe who wrote the law said the hospital lawyers were wrong to advise the doctors for the four terminally ill newborns that the law may apply to them.

"If that's their legal advice, they're not lawyers," said Louis DeFeo, chief lawyer lobbyist for the Missouri Catholic Conference. He said the law specifically excuses doctors practicing "usual and customary standards of medical practice."

"There is a difference between acting with the intent to cause death and knowing that to withdraw a treatment, death could be a consequence," DeFeo said. "If you are simply making a medical judgment, that's not a crime. It's not a crime for a baby or for a 90-year-old."

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