Monday, May 01, 2000

Newborn drop-off proposed

By Janice Morse and Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At least twice in the past two years, Tristate mothers have put their newborns in the trash — a tragedy that Rep. Cheryl Winkler, R-Cincinnati, is trying to prevent.

        She and Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, introduced legislation this month to allow new mothers to relinquish newborns to police, paramedics or emergency room personnel without facing criminal charges of abandonment or neglect.

        The proposed law, similar to one enacted last year in Texas and being considered in more than 20 other states, including Kentucky, would allow the mother to surrender an unharmed infant anonymously, although the parents would be asked to volunteer medical histories.

        Ms. Winkler's office said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported 105 babies were documented as abandoned, including 33 dead, in 1998.

        But Ms. Winkler said many such cases may never be discovered. “I believe (the legislation) will save lives by providing immediate medical and other care for these babies that would otherwise be abandoned and left to die,” Ms. Winkler said.

        “It's an alternative that I think has merit and it could protect the life of the newborn,” said Sgt. Thomas E. Kilgour, Hamilton police spokesman.

        Sgt. Kilgour said he's seen abandoned infant cases several times during nearly three decades as a police officer and welcomes the legislation.

        Last month, Carin Madden, 20, of Butler County's Wayne Township, was sentenced to life in prison, with parole possible after 20 years, for putting her infant in the trash last August. The infant died by the time the trash was collected and a garbage truck driver noticed the body.

        Last June, Deborah Mackey, 39, of Butler County's Liberty Township, was sentenced to six years in prison for attempted murder and child endangering. She had placed her daughter, Holly Ann Mackey, in a trash can at the Franklin factory where she worked. The infant died months later of a birth defect unrelated to the abandonment.

        Under Ms. Winkler's proposal, a mother who surrenders her baby to authorities within 30 days of its birth would face charges only if the infant had been abused. The newborn would be turned over to a child protective agency for adoption or foster care placement.

        Ms. Winkler's legislation is expected to be referred to a committee soon, possibly this week, said her spokesman, David Monder.

        Barbara Wentz, adoption manager at the Cincinnati office of Lutheran Social Services of the Miami Valley, said the proposed law has some merit, but needs a lot more thought and work.

        “It's better than the worst scenario, but it's really not good,” Ms. Wentz said. She said problems could arise if parents' histories are not available. “That's going to be a handicap to the adoptive parents.”

        It would be far better for the mothers to go to adoption agencies, she said.

        Jane Kriege, supervisor of adoption and pregnancy counseling of Catholic Social Services, said birth parents should be encouraged to go to adoption agencies where they can receive coun seling.

        “As for the proposed law, I would be for anything that would help babies not being left to die,” she said. “But we want to help birth parents so they can make an informed decision and feel good about what they've decided.”

        One of Carin Madden's attorneys, Craig Hedric, said the proposed law is a great idea if mothers are safe from retribution from police and family.

        “What happens if a 15-year-old has hidden her pregnancy from parents?” he said. “What if she thinks her parents get mad at her if they find out and physically punish her?”

        Mr. Hedric and Don Moser, Ms. Madden's other attorney, have said she suffered from a syndrome that enabled her to mentally block out her pregnancy and to believe that she was not pregnant.

        Mr. Moser said he doubts whether the proposed law would have saved the life of Ms. Madden's newborn. “This law is for those who are emotionally distraught over their pregnancy, but are still thinking rationally,” Mr. Moser said. “Carin wasn't thinking rationally.”


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