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Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 1999 /22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

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Saving at-risk newborns? -- TEXAS STATE REP. JOSEPH D. DESHOTEL successfully shepherded a law through the Texas legislature this month to provide an alternative to women who panic at the time of an unwanted birth and discard their newborn in a Dumpster or by the roadside.

Texas H.B. 3423 allows an emergency medical care provider to take possession of a child 30 days old or younger if the parent or other person entitled to possess the child voluntarily leaves the child with the provider and does not express an intent to return for the child.

This means that a parent who either cannot or will not provide for his or her newborn child can leave him/her in a hospital emergency room, fire station or police station -- wherever there are trained EMT professionals -- without fear of being prosecuted for criminal neglect. The bill requires that personnel in the emergency room immediately notify the Department of Protective Services to make arrangements for the ongoing care, control and custody of the child.

I found this to be a very creative response to the near epidemic proportions of people (especially unmarried teens) who kill their infants or stuff them in the trash. After all, isn't the ultimate goal to save the life of a child rather than punish a parent? Rep. Deshotel hopes that in addition to saving at-risk newborns, the legislation may also provide pregnant women with an alternative to abortion.

On the other hand, does it encourage irresponsible people to "dump" their unwanted kids on the state? There's definitely a fine line between right and wrong here.

Curious to know how others felt about this new law, I asked my radio program listeners to let me know their thoughts and feelings about the ethics of Texas H.B. 3423. I got 62 responses, 65 percent of which were in agreement with the legislation.

Many people saw this as a viable option to abortion, that the availability of this solution to unwanted children would save many from being "sucked into a sink" and provide more infants for the thousands of two-parent families waiting to adopt. The common caveat was that under no circumstances should either parent ever again be able to claim the child.

One woman said, "If this law saves the life of one baby, it will be worth it."

Another woman wrote, "Drop-off adoption sounds awful. Get out of parenthood free! Horrid. Yet, babies being left in Dumpsters, public bathrooms and abandoned in crack houses or simply forgotten in a hospital is worse."

"I was taken from the hospital at 5 days old by two extremely loving parents who could not give birth to a child. I couldn't care less whether or not I was given up for adoption in the usual way, was dropped off on a doorstep or left in a grocery store," said one listener.

A woman who still grieves over an abortion she had 30 years ago wrote from a very personal perspective. Looking back at her 18-year-old self, she remembered, "There were no alternatives afforded me at the time. The boy wouldn't marry me. My parents wanted to sweep it under the rug. So my dad took me to Mexico." She worries that the law does not provide a period of time in which parents might reconsider, as she remembers how confused and hurt she was as an unmarried pregnant teen-ager.

I heard from a couple who focused on the provision in the law that terminates the rights of the birth parents. "If we had been assured that birth parents had no legal recourse once they abandoned an infant, we would not have gone to Russia to adopt our son, because that is the law in Russia."

On the negative side, we heard from Rene in Wisconsin. "Needless to say, I am horrified. How could any parent consider dropping off their newborn at a fire station? Just what in hell is wrong with people today!"

Rick from South Carolina said, "Regarding the law in Texas, why don't the 'drop-off' points have a sign with the recycling triangle surrounding a pacifier? Doesn't this law reinforce the notion that actions, even stupid ones, are free of consequences? Wouldn't this raise child abandonment to a socially accepted practice?"

Lynn in Ohio agrees. "All in all, we are telling people if they want to have an immoral lifestyle and not have to pay for it, this is the solution. The Bible says 'According to the purity of its nation, so shall it rise and fall.'

"The similarity with the old Roman practice of having specific places for parents to abandon their children to die is frightening. While the Texas law is supposed to be doing the opposite, it is still state-sanctioned child abandonment."

I'm really impressed with the thoughtfulness and intelligence of all the responses. The points are well taken and well written. The ethical quandaries continue to multiply as our society unravels.

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©1999, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or otherwise without the written permission of Universal New Media and Universal Press Syndicate.