Since 2000, Indiana has had a “safe haven” law that allows an unharmed newborn of less than 30 days old to be surrendered at a designated location without the parents being prosecuted for abandonment. Some debate in the Legislature this year has focused on expanding on the concept.
The term “baby boxes” is being used for what bills going through the Legislature call “newborn baby incubators.” The idea is to allow those dropping off their baby to do so with some measure of anonymity by placing them into these specially outfitted containers.
The boxes are about the size of an incubator and would be installed similarly to the compartments at bank drive through windows — only at hospitals and other safe locations. The boxes would have to meet stringent guidelines of the Indiana State Department of Health, and redundant alarms or warning mechanisms would be in place so that the child would be removed very quickly by a human.
Those backing this new law undoubtedly have the welfare of the newborn in mind. It’s an idea that comes from the heart, even though that may sound contradictory to an idea that would allow an easier way for parents to give up a baby they don’t want.
However, the opponents of this new law make valid, persuasive points that Indiana lawmakers would be well served to follow. The problems of allowing these baby boxes would outweigh the positives.
The “safe haven” law already makes it acceptable in society for parents — young or not so young — to give up a baby they don’t want by handing him or her off to medical staff members or law enforcement authorities.
The state should not make it easier for this to occur by allowing the parent or parents to remain anonymous.
There are times when a young mother who has just given birth without medical treatment might very well also need to see a doctor or nurse to avoid complications. Personal contact and some medical assistance might also make her rethink her decision.
It’s possible the equipment can be made to be virtually foolproof; that is, the multiple alarms and the quick attention by adults who are supposed to remove a baby could work as designed every time. Or not. One alarm failure, one massive power outage, one human failure could result in tragedy.
Then there is the frightening possibility that these compartments, which are designed to be out of the public eye, could become tools of those who would want to harm members of the law enforcement or medical communities through an unthinkable action.
If a baby is going to handed off by a parent who can’t take care of it, that baby should at least be handed off to another human who is there to step in.