Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



In his stimulating paper, Professor Mnookin suggests that the legal issue of neonatal euthanasia may be seen in terms of two puzzles: First, what accounts for the ''striking dichotomy between the law on the books, which apparently outlaws such conduct, and the law in action, which apparently permits it"? Second, why has "the treatment of severely handicapped newborns . . . evoked such a violent storm in the last few years"? Professor Mnookin resolves the first puzzle by suggesting that the ''dichotomy between the law on the books and the law in action may serve as a pragmatic, although not necessarily stable, compromise that keeps an unresolved policy issue off the political agenda." He resolves the second puzzle by suggesting that the ''violent storm'' results from the instrumental and symbolic importance of neonatal euthanasia to right-to-life groups, advocates for the handicapped, and medical organizations. From these solutions to his two puzzles, Professor Mnookin draws a solution to the larger policy issue raised by neonatal euthanasia. He writes, "[g]iven the disagreement about the proper approach to issues, our limited ability to make accurate predictions, and the lack of social consensus about the values to informed choice, formulating acceptable legal rules that provide substantive guidance for most cases is unlikely.'' He thus closes by proposing that we leave the law in its present, necessarily puzzling, state.


Pages 227-234, "A Response to "Two Puzzles" by Carl Schneider, 1988, reproduced by permission of Rowman & Littlefield. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher for permission to copy, distribute or reprint.