Bowen v American Hospital Association: Dissent #1

Pregnant Pause Home Courts Search this site

Syllabus | Opinion | Concur | Dissent #1 | Dissent #2
Justice WHITE, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins and with whom Justice O'CONNOR joins as to Parts I, II, IV, and V, dissenting.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Aet of 1973 forbids discrimination solely on the basis of handicap in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. The issue before us is whether the Seeretary of Health and Human Services has any authority under the Act to regulate medical treatment decisions concerning handicapped newborn infants. Relying on its prior decision in United States v. University Hospital, 729 F.2d 144 (CA2 1984), the Court of Appeals held that the Secretary was without power in this respect and affirmed a decision of the District Court that 504 does not extend so far and that the Secretary may not regulate such decisions in any manner.

Although it is my view that we granted certiorari to address this issue, the plurality avoids it by first erroneously reading the decision below as enjoining only the enforcement of specific regulations and by then affirming on the basis that the promulgation of the regulations did not satisfy established principles of administrative law, a matter that the Court of Appeals had no occasion to, and did not, discuss. With all due respeet, I dissent.


The plurality's initial and fundamental error is its statement that the only question presented here is the speeific question whether the four mandatory provisions of the Final Rules issued by the Secretary are authorized by 504. This conclusion misconstrues the opinion and judgment of the Court of Appeals. The plurality concedes that the Distriet Court's judgment on its face did not stop with enjoining the enforcement of the final regulations. Ante, at 2111-2112, n. 11. In fact, the District Court permanently enjoined the Secretary from implementing the final regulations and also from "continuing or undertaking any other aetions to investigate or regulate treatment decisions involving impaired newborn infants taken under authority of Section 504, including pending investigation and other enforcement actions." App. to Pet. for Cert. 51a-52a. This broad injunction ousted the Secretary from the field entirely and granted the precise relief sought by the complaint, which was filed after University Hospital and which sought to take full advantage of that decision.1 The Court of Appeals affirmed and in no way modified the injunction that the District Court had entered. In doing so, the Court of Appeals relied on its previous determination in University Hospital that the Secretary had no statutory authority to regulate medical treatment decisions regarding newborn infants. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 2a-3a.2

It is true that the regulations themselves were invalidated and their enforcement enjoined. This result, however, was directly compelled by the University Hospital conclusion that the Secretary was without power to issue any regulations whatsoever that dealt with infants' medical care, and it did not comprise the whole relief awarded by the District Court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals. I thus see no justification for the plurality's distortion of the Court of Appeals' affirmance of the District Court's all-inclusive injunction, which, like University Hospital, now represents the law in the Second Circuit.3 We should resolve the threshold statutory question that this case and University Hospital clearly pose -- namely, whether the Secretary has any authority at all under the Act to regulate medical care decisions with respect to the handicapped newborn.4


Section 504 of the Act, whieh was construed in University Hospital, provides:

"No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, as defined in section 706(7) of this title, shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." 29 U.S.C. 794.

After determining that 706(7), which defines handicapped persons, is not limited to adults and includes the newborn, the Court of Appeals in University Hospital construed the "otherwise qualified" language of 504 to limit the reach of the section to situations in which the handicap is "unrelated to, and thus improper to consideration of, the services in question." 729 F.2d, at 156.5 This, concluded the Court of Appeals, would exclude most handicapped newborns because their handicaps are not normally irrelevant to the need for medical serviees. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals thought that the "otherwise qualified" limitation should not be applied in the "comparatively fluid context of medical treatment decisions" because "[w]here the handicapping condition is related to the condition(s) to be treated, it will rarely, if ever, be possible to say with certainty that a partieular decision was 'discriminatory.'" Id., at 156-157.

Having identified these perceived incongruities between the language of 504 and the potential regulation of medical decisions regarding handicapped newborns, the Court of Appeals concluded that "[b]efore ruling that congress intended to spawn this type of litigation under section 504, we would want more proof than is apparent from the face of the statute." Id., at 157. Thus, the Court of Appeals turned to the legislative history, where it again found nothing to persuade it that Congress intended 504 to apply to medical treatment of handicapped infants and hence to enter a field so traditionally occupied by the States. Neither did it consider the current administrative interpretation of 504 to be a long-standing agency construction calling for judicial deference. In the Court of Appeals' view, therefore, the section was inapplicable to medical treatment decisions regarding the newborn absent some further indication of congressional intent.

I disagree with this conclusion, which the Court of Appeals adhered to in the case before us now. Looking first at the language of the statute, I agree with the Court of Appeals' preliminary conclusion that handicapped newborns are handicapped individuals covered by the Act. There is no reason for importing an age limitation into the statutory definition, and this Court has previously stated that " 504 protects handicapped persons of all ages from discrimination in a variety of programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance." Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 1016-1017, 104 S.Ct. 3457, 3472, 82 L.Ed.2d 746 (1984).6 This leaves the critical question whether a handicapped infant can ever be "otherwise qualified" for medical treatment and hence possibly subjected to unlawful discrimination when he or she is denied such treatment.7

It may well be that our prior consideration of this language has implied that the Court of Appeals' construction is correct. In Southeastern Community College v. Davis, 442 U.S. 397, 406, 99 S.Ct. 2361, 2367, 60 L.Ed.2d 980 (1979), we held that "[a]n otherwise qualified person is one who is able to meet all of a program's requirements in spite of his handicap." This formulation may be read as implying that where a handicapped person meets all of the requirements normally necessary to receive a program's benefits regardless of his or her handicap, he or she is otherwise qualified because that handicap does not interfere with and is thus irrelevant to his or her qualification for the program. Thus, the Court of Appeals' view -- that refusing treatment that is called for only because of the handicapping condition cannot constitute discrimination on the basis of handicap since there will be no similarly situated nonhandicapped newborn, i.e., one who needs the same treatment -- draws support from our holding in Davis since it turns on the same underlying perception that discrimination occurs only when the handicapping condition is irrelevant to the qualification for the program.

Even under the Court of Appeals' interpretation of "otherwise qualified," however, it does not follow that 504 may never apply to medical treatment decisions for the newborn. An esophageal obstruction, for example, would not be part and parcel of the handicap of a baby suffering from Down's syndrome, and the infant would benefit from and is thus otherwise qualified for having the obstruction removed in spite of the handicap. In this case, the treatment is completely unrelated to the baby's handicapping condition. If an otherwise normal child would be given the identical treatment, so should the handicapped child if discrimination on the basis of the handicap is to be avoided.8

It would not be difficult to multiply examples like this. And even if it is true that in the great majority of cases the handicap itself will constitute the need for treatment, I doubt that this consideration or any other mentioned by the Court of Appeals justifies the wholesale conclusion that 504 never applies to newborn infants with handicaps. That some or most failures to treat may not fall within 504, that discerning which failures to treat are discriminatory may be difficult, and that applying 504 in this area may intrude into the traditional functions of the State do not support the categorical conclusion that the section may never be applied to medical decisions about handicapped infants. And surely the absence in the legislative history of any consideration of handicapped newborns does not itself narrow the reach of the statutory language. See Jefferson County Pharmaceutical Assn. v. Abbott Laboratories, 460 U.S. 150, 159-162, and n. 18, 103 S.Ct. 1011, 1017-1019, and n. 18, 74 L.Ed.2d 882 (1983). Furthermore, the broad remedial purpose of the section would be undermined by excluding handicapped infants from its coverage; and if, as the plurality indicates, ante, at 2120, the Secretary has substantial leeway to explore areas in which discrimination against the handicapped poses serious problems and to devise regulations to prohibit the discrimination, it is appropriate to take note of the Secretary's present view that 504 properly extends to the subject matter at issue here. Thus, I believe that the Court of Appeals in University Hospital incorrectly concluded that 504 may never apply to medical treatment decisions concerning handicapped newborn infants. Where a decision regarding medical treatment for a handicapped newborn properly falls within the statutory provision, it should be subject to the constraints set forth in 504. Consequently, I would reverse the judgment below.


Having determined that the stated basis for the Court of Appeals' holding in University Hospital was incorrect and that the decision below cannot be supported by University Hospital's blanket prohibition, I would remand the case to the Court of Appeals. Respondents have, as the plurality's opinion itself demonstrates, raised significant issues aside from the threshold statutory issue presented here. There are, for example, substantial questions regarding the scope of the Secretary's statutory authority in this area and whether these particular regulations are consistent with the statute. I would decline to reach and decide these questions for the first time in this Court without the benefit of the lower courts' deliberations.9 The plurality, however, has chosen to reach out and address one of those subsidiary issues. Because the plurality has resolved that issue in a manner that I find indefensible on its own terms, I too address it.

The plurality concludes that the four mandatory provisions of the final regulations are invalid because there is no "'rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.'" Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Assn., Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43, 103 S.Ct. 2856, 2866, 77 L.Ed.2d 443 (1983) (quoting Burlington Truck Lines, Inc. v. United States, 371 U.S. 156, 168, 83 S.Ct. 239, 24S246, 9 L.Ed.2d 207 (1962)). The basis for this conclusion is the plurality's perception that two and only two wholly discrete categories of decisions are the object of the final regulations: (1) decisions made by hospitals to treat or not treat where parental consent has been given and (2) decisions made by hospitals to refer or not to refer a case to the state child protective services agency where parental consent has been withheld.10 Since the Secretary has not specifically pointed to discriminatory actions that provably resulted from either of these two specific types of decisions, the plurality finds that the Secretary's conclusion that discrimination is occurring is unsupported factually. The plurality's characterization of the Secretary's rationale, however, oversimplifies both the complexity of the situations to which the regulations are addressed and the reasoning of the Secretary.

First, the Secretary's proof that treatment is in fact being withheld from handicapped infants is unquestioned by the plurality. It is therefore obvious that whoever is making them, decisions to withhold treatment from such infants are in fact being made. This basic understanding is critical to the Secretary's further reasoning, and the discussion accompanying the proposed regulations clearly indicates that this was the Secretary's starting point. See 48 Fed.Reg. 30847-30848 (1983). Proceeding with this factual understanding, the next question is whether such withholding of treatment constitutes prohibited discrimination under 504 in some or all situations. It is at this point that the plurality errs. In the plurality's view, only two narrow paradigmatic types of decisions were contemplated by the Secretary as potentially constituting discrimination in violation of the statute. See ante, at 2113. The plurality does not explain, however, precisely what in the Secretary's discussion gives rise to this distillation, and my reading of the explanation accompanying the regulations does not leave me with so limited a view of the Secretary's concerns.

The studies cited by the Seeretary in support of the regulations and other literature concerning medical treatment in this area generally portray a decisionmaking process in which the parents and the doctors and often other concerned persons as well are involved -- although the parental decision to consent or not is obviously the critical one.11 Thus, the parental consent decision does not occur in a vacuum. In fact, the doctors (directly) and the hospital (indirectly) in most cases participate in the formulation of the final parental decision and in many cases substantially influence that decision.l2 Consequently, discrimination against a handicapped infant may assume guises other than the outright refusal to treat once parental consent has been given. Discrimination may occur when a doctor encourages or fails to discourage a parental decision to refuse consent to treatment for a handicapped child when the doctor would discourage or actually oppose a parental decision to refuse consent to the same treatment for a nonhandicapped child. Or discrimination may occur when a doctor makes a discriminatory treatment recommendation that the parents simply follow. Alternatively, discrimination may result from a hospital's explicit laissez-faire attitude about this type of discrimination on the part of doctors.

Contrary to the plurality's constrained view of the Secretary's justification for the regulations, the stated basis for those regulations reveals that the Secretary was cognizant of this more elusive disrimination. For example, the evidenee cited most extensively by the Secretary in his initial proposal of these regulations was a study of attitudes of practicing and teaching pediatricians and pediatric surgeons. See 48 Fed.Reg. 30848 (1983) (citing Shaw, Randolph, & Manard, Ethical Issues in Pediatrie Surgery: A National Survey of Pediatricians and Pediatric Surgeons, 60 Pediatrics 588 (1977)). This study indicated that a substantial number of these doctors (76.8% of pediatrie surgeons and 49.5% of pediatricians) would "acquiesce in parents' decision to refuse consent for surgery in a newborn with intestinal atresia if the infant also had ... Down's syndrome." Id., at 590. It also indicated that a substantial minority (23.6% of pediatric surgeons and 13.2% of pediatricians) would in fact encourage parents to refuse consent to surgery in this situation and that only a small minority (3.4% of pediatric surgeons and 15.8% of pediatricians) would attempt to get a court order mandating surgery if the parents refused consent. In comparison, only a small minority (7.9% of pediatric surgeons and 2.6% of pediatricians) would acquiesce in parental refusal to treat intestinal atresia in an infant with no other anomaly. And a large majority (78.3% of pediatric surgeons and 88.4% of pediatricians) would try to get a court order directing surgery if parental consent were withheld for treatment of a treatable malignant tumor. The Secretary thus recognized that there was evidence that doctors would act differently in terms of attempts to affect or override parental decisions depending on whether the infant was handicapped.

Based on this evidenee, the Seeretary conceded that "[t]he full extent of discriminatory and life-threatening practices toward handicapped infants is not yet known" but concluded "that for even a single infant to die due to lack of an adequate notice and complaint procedure is unacceptable." 48 Fed.Reg. 30847 (1983). Thus, the Secretary promulgated the regulations at issue here. These regulations, in relevant part, require that a notice of the federal policies against discrimination on the basis of handicap be posted in a place where a hospital's health care professionals will see it. This requirement is, as the Secretary concluded, "[c]onsistent with the Department's intent to target the notice to nurses and other health care professionals." App. 25. The notice requirement, therefore, may reasonably be read as aimed at fostering an awareness by health care professionals of their responsibility not to act in a discriminatory manner with respect to medical treatment decisions for handicapped infants. The second requirement of the regulations, that state agencies provide mechanisms for requiring and reporting medical neglect of handicapped children, is also consistent with the Seeretary's focus on discrimination in the form of discriminatory reporting.13

I therefore perceive a rational connection between the faets found by the Secretary and the regulatory choice made. The Secretary identified an existing practice that there was reason to believe resulted from discrimination on the basis of handicap. Given this finding, the amorphous nature of much of the possible discrimination, the Secretary's profession that the regulations are appropriate no matter how limited the problem,14 and the focus of the regulations on loci where unlawful discrimination seems most likely to occur and on persons likely to be responsible for it, I conclude that these regulations are not arbitrary and capricious and that the Court errs in striking them down on that basis. Although the Secretary's path here may be marked with "'less than ideal clarity,'" we will uphold such a decision "'if the agency's path may reasonably be discerned.'" Motor Vehicles Mfrs Assn., 463 U.S., at 43, 103 S.Ct., at 2867 (quoting Bowman Transportation, Inc. v. Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., 419 U.S. 281, 286, 95 S.Ct. 438, 442, 42 L.Ed.2d 447 (1974)).

The plurality also objects to the regulations' requirement concerning the state protective agencies' reporting procedures on another ground. Specifically, the plurality finds that this requirement is in fact a substantive prescription rather than a prohibition of discrimination. The plurality bases this conclusion on the fact that the regulation sets forth specific procedures that must be adopted by state agencies.

The plurality's conclusion disregards the Secretary's explanation for this requirement. In the preamble to the proposed regulations, the Secretary explicitly stated:

"The Department has determined that under every state's law, failure of parents to provide necessary, medically indicated care to a child is either explicitly cited as grounds for action by the state to compel treatment or is impiicitly covered by the state statute. These state statutes also provide for appropriate administrative and judicial enforeement authorities to prevent such instances of medical neglect, including requirements that medical personnel report suspected cases to the state child protective services agency, agency access to medical files, immediate investigations and authority to compel treatment." 48 Fed.Reg. 30848 (1983).

This finding was repeated in the statement accompanying the final regulations:

"Although there are some variations among state child protective statutes, all have the following basic elements: a requirement that health care providers report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect, including medical neglect; a mechanism for timely receipt of such reports; a process for administrative inquiry and investigation to determine the facts; and the authority and responsibility to seek an appropriate court order to remedy the apparent abuse and neglect, if it is found to exist." 49 Fed.Reg. 1627 (1984).

The regulations, in turn, require that the State provide these same serviees with respect to medical neglect of handicapped infants. See 45 CFR 84.55(c) (1985). The only additional requirements imposed by the regulations involve provisions enabling the Department itself to review for compliance with the nondiscrimination requirements. Consequently, the regulations simply track the existing state procedures found to exist by the Secretary, requiring that funded state agencies provide those same procedures for handicapped children. The fact that the regulations specify the procedures that are necessary to ensure an absence of discrimination and do not instead speak in "nondiscrimination" terms is irrelevant. The substance of the requirement is nondiscrimination. The plurality's conclusion in this regard, however, apparently rests on a determination that implementation of a nondiscrimination mandate may be accomplished in only one form -- even if the same result may be accomplished by another route. See ante, at 2119, n. 26. I would not elevate regulatory form over statutory substance in this manner. In sum, the plurality's determination that the regulations were inadequately supported and explained as a matter of administrative law does not withstand examination of the Secretary's discussion of the underlying problem and of the contours of the regulations themselves.


My disagreement with the plurality in this case does not end here, however. For even under its chosen rationale, I find its ultimate conclusion dubious. Having assiduously restricted its discussion to the validity of the regulations only, the plurality ends up concluding expansively that not only the regulations but also other investigations taken by the Secretary independent of the regulations are invalid. Thus, the Court apparently enjoins the Secretary's on-site investigations as well as "the regu- lations which purport to authorize a continuation of them." Ante, at 2123. And the plurality rests this action on the conclusion that the lower eourts "correctly held that these investigative actions were not authorized by the statute." Ibid.

I am at a loss to understand the plurality's reasoning in this respect. In construing the judgment below, the plurality appears to conclude that, although the injunction entered by the Distriet Court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals did not purport to prohibit all actions by the Secretary under the statute, the injunetion did in faet extend beyond merely these particular regulations. Thus, the plurality indicates that the judgment below applied as well to actions that "resemble," "parallel," or are "along [the] lines [of]" the regulations. Ante, at 2111-2112, n. 11. The plurality further defines what actions it believes the Court of Appeals and District Court contemplated: "[T]he injunction forbids continuation or initiation of regulatory and investigative activity directed at instances in which parents have refused consent to treatment and, if the Secretary were to undertake such action, efforts to seek compliance with affirmative requirements imposed on state child protective services agencies." Ante, at 2111, n. 11.

Aside from the fact that I see absolutely nothing in either the District Court's or the Court of Appeals' judgment that would support a constrained reading of the broadly phrased relief awarded by the District Court and affirmed without modification by the Court of Appeals,16 I have some doubt as to how different the Court's holding today is from a holding that 504 gives HHS no authority whatsoever over decisions to treat handicapped infants. The plurality's lack of coherence on this crucial point raises substantial doubts as to the reach of the holding and as to the basis for that holding.

Finally, I am puzzled as to how and why the plurality's determination that the regulations are invalid because they are arbitrary and capricious extends to other actions not taken under the regulations. The plurality apparently would enjoin all enforcement actions by the Secretary in situations in which parents have refused to consent to treatment. See ante, at 2111, n. 11. Yet it is not clear to me that the plurality's basis for invalidating these regulations would extend to all such situations. I do not see, for example, why the plurality's finding that the Secretary did not adequately support his conclusion that failures to report refusals to treat likely result from discrimination means that such a conclusion will never be justified. The Secretary might be able to prove that a particular hospital generally fails to report nontreatment of handicapped babies for a specific treatment where it reports nontreatment of nonhandicapped babies for the same treatment. In essence, a determination that these regulations were inadequately supported factually would not seem to be properly extended beyond actions taken pursuant to these regulations: The fact that the Secretary has not adequately justified generalized action under the regulations should not mean that individualized action in appropriate circumstances is precluded.


In sum, the plurality today mischaracterizes the judgment below and, based on that mischaracterization, is sidetracked from the straightforward issue of statutory construction that this case presents. The plurality incorrectly resolves an issue that was not fully addressed by the parties, gives no guidance to the Secretary or the other parties as to the proper construction of the governing statute, and fails adequately to explain the precise scope of the holding or how that holding is supported under the plurality's chosen rationale. From this misguided effort, I dissent.


1. I disagree with the plurality's conclusion that "[t]he complaints in this case did not challenge the Department's authority to regulate all treatment decisions, but more precisely the mandatory provisions of the Final Rules and enforcement activity along those lines but undertaken pursuant to the Department's 'general authority' to enforce 504." Ante, at 2111, n. 11. Although focusing most extensively on the regulations and pending HHS investigations, the complaint specifically cited the University Hospital holding that "Section 504 [does] not apply to 'treatment decisions involving defective newborn infants.'" App. 138. The complaint also specifically requested that the District Court "issue a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting the defendant from enforcing her final rule embodied in 45 CFR 84.55, 49 Feds Reg. 1622, et seq. (Jan. 12, 1984), and prohibiting defendant from otherwise acting pursuant to the claimed authority of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in regard to the medical treatment of infants with birth defects." Id, at 159. The complaint thus requested both invalidation of the regulations and an injunction against all other actions by the Secretary in this area.

2. The Court of Appeals' brief order affirming the District Court's judgment, although characterizing that judgment generally as having struck down the regulations, cited University Hospital and made no changes in the broad relief awarded by the District Court. The Court of Appeals gave absolutely no indication that it was construing the District Court's judgment one whit less broadly than that judgment's language indicated. Nowhere, therefore, is there a justification for the plurality's reconstructive reading of the Court of Appeals' judgment.

3. I note in this regard that the parties as well do not appear to have contemplated the more limited reading of the judgment below adopted by the plurality. See Brief for Petitioner 9; Brief for Respondents American Hospital Association et al. 4; Brief for Respondents American Medical Association et al. 14.

4. I would not avoid the issue of the validity of University Hospital even if the judgment below were limited to invalidation of these regulations. Given that the judgment below, whether it extends as far as University Hospital or not, was based on the University Hospital view that all regulation of medical treatment decisions is outside the Secretary's 504 authority because of the nature of those decisions, I believe that the better approach here would be for the Court to determine the correctness of University Hospital in any case.

5. The Court of Appeals first addressed and reserved the question whether the hospital or its functions comprised a program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Noting that this was a fact-specific inquiry, cf. Grove City College v. Bell, 465 U.S. 555, 104 S.Ct. 1211, 79 L.Ed.2d 516 (1984), the Court of Appeals assumed that the entire hospital was covered by 504 and proceeded to consider "whether, assuming the entire hospital is covered by section 504, the statute authorizes the type of investigation initiated here." 729 F.2d, at 151.

I also do not consider whether or under what circumstances hospitals or hospital neonatal programs may constitute programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. The judgment of the District Court which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals does not set forth guidelines for interpreting this language in this context: It merely enjoins actions directed at such programs or activities. The regulations as well simply adopt the statutory language without interpreting it. Thus, I assume here that the 504 strictures would be applied only to appropriate programs or activities, and I therefore would leave discussion of this fact-specific issue for further proceedings. I would not now hold that 504 may never apply on this basis.

6. Although infants with birth defects are clearly< handicapped individuals covered by 504, there is one manner in which they may differ from most other handicapped individuals for 504 purposes. Specifically, they may have a combination of conditions -- some of which are medically correctable and some of which are not. In older handicapped individuals, medically correctable conditions may have been corrected so that only irreparable handicapping conditions remain. In a newborn infant, however, both correctable and incorrectable conditions may exist. Thus, since both of these may interfere with major life activities, both types of conditions may be considered to be handicaps. In this context, however, it might make more sense to consider as handicaps only those conditions that cannot be medically treated to the point that they will not impair major life activities. For such correctable conditions would not be likely to cause the infant to be regarded as handicapped. In any case, I believe that defining an infant's handicap may well be a delicate problem and one that deserves some consideration.

7. It would appear that for an infant to be qualified for treatment his or her parents must have consented to such treatment. For the purposes of this discussion of whether the Court of Appeals was correct that medical treatment decisions may never be regulated by 504, I assume that parental consent has been given and that the arguably discriminatory treatment decision is being made by the hospital or doctor. The Court of Appeals in University Hospital concentrated on the nature of these decisions in concluding that 504 may not properly be applied, and I concentrate on that as well. That a situation in which treatment is refused where parental consent has been given may not have been shown to have arisen does not undermine this assumption here. The critical question is whether the operative provisions of 504 may ever apply here given the nature of the decision.

For the purposes of addressing the Court of Appeals' University Hospital analysis, the most straightforward fact situation to consider is one in which the benefit provided is the medical treatment itself and in which a hospital refuses treatment in the face of parental consent. In this context, the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the nature of the decisions themselves precludes application of 504 may be addressed with maximum simplicity. I note, however, that it may well be that the benefits provided by hospitals and doctors and covered by 504 extend beyond treatment itself. For example, one benefit provided by hospitals and doctors to patients who cannot make their own medical treatment decisions may be medical advice in those patients' best interest to those who must ultimately make the relevant medical treatment decisions. To the extent that the provision of this benefit is a program or activity covered by the statute, I would think that the statute requires that the same advice be given to parents of a handicapped baby as to the parents of a similarly situated nonhandicapped baby. Another benefit provided may be the reporting of nontreatment to the relevant state agency in the case of a parental decision not to treat. Again, to the extent that the provision of this benefit is a program or activity covered by the statute, see n. 13, infra, I would think that 504 requires that the hospital or doctor report nontreatment of a handicapped baby when it would report the denial of the same treatment for a nonhandicapped baby.

My conclusions in this regard are buttressed by my view of 504's coverage in the case of a medical treatment decision regarding a black baby. If a hospital or doctor advised different or less efficacious treatment for a black baby than for a white baby, I believe that this would be discrimination under the statute. Similarly, a failure to report a parental decision not to treat because of race would seem to me to be illegally discriminatory -- assuming that this decision otherwise came within the statute.

In sum, although these additional situations present the same issue as to when a handicapped baby is otherwise qualified and when such a baby is subjected to discrimination as does the direct example of a refusal to treat and although it may well be that it would be in these contexts that the statute would most likely be given effect, for simplicity's sake I have centered my discussion of University Hospital on the refusal-to-treat example.

8. There are substantial arguments that could be made that the Court of Appeals too narrowly read the statute. It could be argued, for example, that the benefit provided by hospitals is not defined in terms of specific treatments. Rather the benefit is "general medical care for whatever happens to need treating." If this is the benefit, then a much broader application of the statute in this context is reasonable. Alternatively, even if the benefit is defined more narrowly, "reasonable accommodation" might require more than mere impartial dispensing of identical treatment. See Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287, 299-300, and nn. 19, 20, 105 S.Ct. 712, 719-720, and nn. 19, 20, 83 L.Ed.2d 661 (1985). I need not resolve this issue of the exact meaning of 504 and Davis in this context, however, because my conclusion that University Hospital's broad reasoning was incorrect does not depend on it. Although I do not resolve these issues, I note that while the more expansive interpretations seem consistent with the interpretation adopted by the Secretary in the regulations, the more restrictive one does not. See 45 CFR pt. 84, Appendix C, ¶(a) (1985).

9. In addition, although the Secretary did not brief the merits of respondents' claim that the regulations are invalid because arbitrary and capricious, the Secretary did indicate his view that this claim in its current form is not properly in the case and that it is inadequate on its face. See Reply Brief for Petitioner 16, n. 6. Specifically, the Secretary first asserts that respondents' argument as to the lack of factual basis involving situations in which parents have consented to treatment was not raised in the complaint. See App. 146 (challenging lack of showing of instances where "erroneous" parental decisions were made and where medical authorities did not take proper measures under state law). Thus, the Secretary contends that the first major claim addressed and relied on by the plurality was never properly raised. Second, the Secretary contends that these are interpretative regulations that impose no new substantive duties, see 49 Fed.Reg. 1628 (1984), and that no factual basis for their issuance need therefore be given. Cf. 5 U.S.C. 553(b).

These contentions, although not perhaps representing a procedural bar to our reaching this claim, see ante, at 2113, n. 14, do provide an additional sign that the plurality's resolution of this case rests on shaky ground.

10. At this point in the case, as the plurality observes, all parties concerned agree that parental decisions are not included in 504's application. See ante, at 2114.

11. See, e.g., Duff & Campbell, Moral and Ethical Dilemmas in the Special-Care Nursery, 289 N.Eng.J.Med. 890 (1973). See also Gross, Cox, Tatyrek, Pollay, & Barnes, Early Management and Decision Making for the Treatment of Myelomeningocele, 72 Pediatrics 450 (1983).

12. Presumably, the program or activity that 504 would apply to in this context would be the hospital's neonatal program of medical care or the hospital's program of medical care generally. In either case, actions of both doctors and hospitals that cause or permit discriminatory decisions that are taken as part of the program or activity would be subject to 504's constraints.

13. The plurality reserves the question whether reporting would be a program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, ante, at 2118-2119, n. 25, and I follow that course.

14. The plurality itself says that "regulations may be imposed for preventative or prophylactic reasons," ante, at 2121, but concludes that the Secretary here proceeded based on the perception of an actual problem rather than a need for prophylactic rules. To me, however, the Secretary's statement that the rules are appropriate if necessary for even one problem situation makes the plurality's distinction in this respect questionable: The line between a prophylactic rule and a rule that draws its justification from the likely existence of even one unlawful action seems to me a very fine one.

15. See nn. 1-2, supra, and accompanying text.

Syllabus | Opinion | Concur | Dissent #1 | Dissent #2

Pregnant Pause Home Courts Search this site

Posted 9 Sep 2000.

Copyright 2000 by Pregnant Pause
Contact Pregnant Pause