Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 7, 2010
Vancouver's Angel's Cradle lets mothers abandon babies safely
THE B.C. CATHOLIC
VANCOUVER - St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver is the first hospital in Canada to offer a temporary respite shelter for infants in danger of being abandoned and even dying because their troubled mothers cannot care for them.
On May 3 the hospital launched the Angel's Cradle, a repository for babies near their Burrard Street Emergency Department entrance, where mothers can leave a newborn anonymously. An angel sign is visible from the street to indicate the cradle's location.
Funding for the project's construction and for information brochures sent to local social service agencies has come from St. Paul's Gift Shop and a grant of $10,000 from Project Advance of the Vancouver archdiocese.
Laura Hughes of the Project Advance office told The B.C. Catholic that the money was made available through the Special Needs projects fund with the approval of Archbishop Michael Miller. "Our steering committee felt it was a very appropriate choice, especially in light of the historical connection to the Church," she noted.
When someone opens the door to the Angel's Cradle, explained Dr. Geoffrey Cundiff, head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Paul's, they have 30 seconds to place the child in a bassinet equipped with blankets and a cuddly teddy bear before an alarm sounds. Hospital staff will not approach.When the door is closed, triggering the alarm, staff retrieve the infant through an inner door and admit it for a medical exam. After an assessment and treatment, if necessary, the child goes into the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Cundiff, who began researching the Angel's Cradle idea two years ago, said it's a good way for the hospital to better serve its highly transient, often low income, city-centre patient population.
"Babies have been left at our Comox Street entrance and at bus stops nearby. In the last 15 years there have been seven abandoned-baby deaths in the Lower Mainland."
The Angel's Cradle is actually modelled on the Italian 12th-century "foundling wheels" which Pope Innocent III decreed be built into the walls of orphanages or churches. Desperate mothers, rather than leaving their infant to die or throwing it into the Tiber River, as was the fate of many, could use the foundling wheel and know their baby would be taken in by nuns or priests.
An infant was placed in a cylinder or wheel in the side of a building. It could be turned, like a revolving door, so that the baby was inside. By ringing a bell to signal the baby's presence, a mother could be confident her child was safe.
"Baby hatches," another name for foundling wheels, were used until the 19th century; one can be seen today in the Santo Spirito Hospital in Vatican City. St. Vincent de Paul built the first foundling home in 1638 in Paris and equipped it with a foundling wheel. At their height in the 19th century, 250 existed in France.
Germany opened a modern baby hatch in Hamburg in 2000 after abandoned babies had been found dead from exposure the previous year. In India and Pakistan, the main purpose for baby hatches is to save female babies at risk because families want to avoid the high cost of dowries.
Unlike many other countries, Canada has no laws allowing parents to legally and anonymously give up a newborn. Doing so can lead to charges of neglect. Forty-seven U.S. states and many other countries have passed such "safe haven" legislation, said Cundiff, who hopes this country won't be far behind.
"I know people are lobbying for this. I have been contacted but right now we are focussed on filling the need in a pragmatic way."
Vancouver police have pledged not to press charges or pursue a mother who has used the Angel's Cradle, said Cundiff, because they consider the baby is in a safe shelter and will be retrieved.
"Our procedures for dealing with abandoned infants at the hospital has not changed," said a hospital spokesperson. "We are simply providing a safe place for women to give up their infants instead of leaving them in places where they are at risk."
CHANGE OF HEART
Other options for mothers include talking to a doctor, to the Ministry of Children and Families, and to a social worker. If a mother has a change of heart after using the Angel's Cradle, she can contact the ministry, said Cundiff.
Any information left with the baby concerning its medical background or that of the parents is a great help to the hospital, he stressed. No one will try to contact a mother if she does this.
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