Last Updated: Thursday - 09/30/2010
October 4, 2010
Will abandoned babies get a home?
Covenant Health explores possibility of safe haven where people can surrender newborns
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - The young mother kissed her newborn on the forehead, tucked a note into the blanket covering the baby, opened the door to a cradle in a nook of Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital building and placed the infant in the bassinet.
Thirty seconds after she closed the door of the Angel Cradle chamber, an alarm sounded and hospital staff went to care for the baby.
No one chased after the retreating parent that July day, for the premise of Angel's Cradle project in Vancouver is that unwanted infants can be surrendered anonymously.
Approximately 47 American states and Puerto Rico have safe haven laws for abandoned infants. The rules, such as the age limit of babies that can be surrendered, vary. In many states, the baby can be thrust into the arms of a policeman or fireman, as well as a hospital employee.
But the premise is the same. A baby that faces a dangerous abandonment, abuse, even death, can be given a safe haven.
Covenant Health is now looking at whether a safe haven project is needed in Alberta.
"We have started talking amongst ourselves to see if there was a possible need here and should we develop something similar," says Gordon Self, Covenant's vice-president of mission, ethics and spirituality.
Self points out rescuing abandoned babies is nothing new for the Catholic Church.
"Look into our history. Parents have left babies at churches, foundling wheels, hospitals. The sisters would take care of these infants. People knew their baby would be protected and cared for and the baby would make its way to some other parental arms."
(Pope Innocent III decreed the first foundling wheel be created in churches in 1198 so unwanted infants would not be cast into the Tiber River.)
"The perspective is towards safe abandonment versus unsafe abandonment," says Self. "For whatever reason, a mother is in a vulnerable and alone state, unaware of what social services are available, or there is a barrier so they don't want to present themselves to those authorities and want to anonymously donate (their baby).
"This is where an Angel Cradle, a public facility, open 24 hours a day, can be an option for that mother in that desperate state."
Now is a time for consultation and Self says, "We are going to continue to work with (St. Paul's Hospital) and learn from their experience."
During this exploratory stage, Self says, "We need to work with our obstetricians, our family practice physicians, with our whole women's health personnel, our social service agencies, our funder, - Alberta Health Services, . . . develop a steering committee."
If they feel there is a need, "then we shift into, 'How do we make it happen?'"
Self is careful to point out that they don't want to work at cross-purposes with social agencies.
"But I know there is interest within the local Catholic community," he says. "It would provide a support for an infant and save infants from an untimely death.
"I think there are people who would be really delighted to see Catholic health care develop something that would provide that additional resource. It would be part of a continuum, not a replacement of all the existing social service supports, but maybe a way of augmenting an existing safety net.
"But if it saves just one baby, then it is worth it."
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