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Jewish World Review March 28, 2001 / 4 Nissan, 5761

Paul Campos

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Consumer Reports

When a day care provider dumps her baby should her liscence be revoked? -- HERE'S a story you won't be reading any time soon: "The state's department of Human Services is debating whether to return Lisa Levantino's day care license. Levantino's license was suspended after she left an infant in her care behind a dumpster in a Denver alley. The child was discovered several hours later.

"We don't necessarily think she's a bad person," said the department's deputy director. "She made a poor decision, but it appears that she was under a great deal of stress. With the proper counseling, we believe she can learn to become a responsible day care provider."

You won't be reading this story, because even in a culture in which "tolerance" sometimes seems to be the only generally recognized virtue, abandoning a baby in an alley is the kind of act that everyone agrees should permanently disqualify anyone who would do such a thing from taking care of an infant, even for a day -- even for an hour.

That is, unless the person in question gave birth to the child, in which case we are quite often willing to give the infant back into her care, 24 hours a day, seven days per week.

Replace the words "day care provider" with the magic word "mother" and the outrageous hypothetical described above remains equally outrageous, but no longer hypothetical.

Lisa Levantino left the baby to which she gave birth behind a dumpster, where by the grace of G-d the infant was found several hours later relatively unscathed. Now she wants the child back, and the Denver Department of Human Services has said it may well support her efforts to recover custody.

"The mother was under a great deal of stress and did something that was unacceptable in our society," says Deputy Director Donna Good. This quote is a masterpiece of what sociologist Daniel Bell has called "defining deviancy down." I especially love the use of the phrase "unacceptable in our society," which used to be employed to describe such things as wearing blue jeans to a nice restaurant, but now is reserved for somewhat more serious breaches of social etiquette.

We can have a certain amount of sympathy for people like Lisa Levantino without disgracing a word like "mother." She is no more this child's mother than the man who contributed three minutes of his time to the child's creation is his father.

"Mother" and "father" should be honorific titles, earned over years of sacrifice, heartache and toil. After all, that Levantino and her to this point anonymous mate can successfully reproduce does not differentiate them from salmon or maple trees.

That Levantino has been charged with nothing more than a misdemeanor shows that we as a society are mostly indifferent to what people do with "their" children, as opposed to ours. What if that had been your baby that Levantino left behind a dumpster on a cold winter's night? How would you feel if she were then charged with an offense that is a good deal less serious than the charges she would have faced if she had been found with an ounce of marijuana in her backpack?

In a society in which people need to pass a battery of tests before being allowed to adopt an abandoned dog from the local shelter we allow the biological parents of children numerous opportunities to learn not to kill their offspring, apparently in the belief that, with a little luck, practice will make perfect. When I was a kid, we used to call that a "do-over" -- when what was on the line was a sandlot baseball game, not a child's life.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Paul Campos