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"Who Should Survive?: One of the Choices on Our Conscience": Mental Retardation and the History of Contemporary Bioethics

The film "Who Should Survive?: One of the Choices on Our Conscience" contains a dramatization of the death of an infant with Down syndrome as the result of the parents' decision not to have a congenital intestinal obstruction surgically corrected. The dramatization was based on two similar cases at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and was financed by the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation. When "Who Should Survive?" was exhibited in 1971, the public reaction was generally critical of the parents' decision and the physicians' inaction. Although technological developments in medicine were a necessary condition for the production of this film and its unanticipated reception, they were not a sufficient condition. The proximate cause was a changed understanding of the capabilities of individuals with Down syndrome. Part of the impetus for this change was data showing the adverse effects of institutionalization on normal children.

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