There was a hearing in the Michigan House of Representatives last week on a bill that would allow a parent who wished to anonymously give up a child to place it in a box attached to the side of a building like a hospital, or a police station.
When the baby goes in, two alarms are supposed to go off and notify both 9-1-1 and people inside the building to rescue the baby.
Well, I discussed the concept on Friday, and expressed some polite skepticism, in which I echoed some of the concerns expressed by an official from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services who testified at the hearing.
She noted that there were no existing standards to prevent malfunctions, like the alarms failing to go off, and to make sure the boxes are otherwise safe for infants.
She also noted that when the babies are turned in anonymously, caregivers may lose the opportunity to gain vital information about details, like the baby’s medical condition.
I echoed those concerns, but said I had no position on whether the boxes should be approved, and the health and human services official said the same thing; she and I were raising questions. I think that’s what policy makers and journalists should always do. But most of my readers and listeners evidently don’t agree.
I soon got an angry email from a couple named Jean and Mike Morrisey, who essentially yelled via electrons, “Please let me know why you believe in this worst-in-the-nation ‘program.’?
“These ‘baby boxes’ out of Indiana are a scam, and 100 percent illegal. They are not safe for any newborn to be in, as they have never been checked against,”
government standards, said the Morriseys, who run a safe haven for babies in Massachusetts.
But on Facebook, I was skinned alive for questioning the safety of the baby boxes. Monica Kelsey, the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes and the chief promoter of the devices, accused me of shaming women, which was baffling to me. I don’t see how worrying about whether a baby would really be safe in such a box shames women.
Michigan already has a law that enables any parent to surrender a baby, with no questions asked and no attempt to persuade any mother to keep an unwanted baby. Several wrote “these boxes save lives” and were angry anyone would question that. And several suggested I write columns on contraception and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Well, I think information on those subjects is relatively easy to find, and doubt that many of my readers and listeners come to me for family planning advice. I am grateful however to Lorraine Alden, who wrote that the substance of what I was saying “seems to elude everyone except the few who actually read Jack’s post.”
She added that we were entitled to reflect on any changes in society. She is absolutely right, and it is the job of the journalist to question everything, even when that makes people mad. As I told the anti-baby box man in Massachusetts, I don’t have a position here.
Except, that if we do adopt baby boxes, we do so only after rigorous testing and standard-setting, and not out of blind faith they will work.
If that makes me unpopular, well, that’s my job.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.