Michigan's Safe Delivery law gives alternative to abandoning infants

BIG RAPIDS — Left in a public bathroom. Abandoned by the side of the road. Tossed aside like garbage. No newborn baby should have their life begin or, sadly, end like this.

These stories of infant abandonment make headlines nationally, regionally and even locally. On Jan. 28, a woman whose baby was found dead at a Detroit-area recycling center was charged with murder and child abuse. In July, a 15-year-old in Newaygo County gave birth to a baby girl, abandoning her outside for hours before the child was discovered. Fortunately, the newborn survived.

Both these horrifying situation could have been avoided if the mothers had known about and utilized Michigan’s Safe Delivery of Newborns law.

The law, which has been in effect in Michigan since 2001, allows a parent to anonymously surrender a newborn child to an emergency service provider as long as the child is less than 72 hours old. The legislation aims to prevent tragedies like the ones referenced above by allowing parents a safe alternative to abandoning infants in dangerous situation.

When surrendering a child under the Safe Delivery law, as long as the infant is not found to be abused or neglected, there are no criminal consequences, explained Erin Griffes, Emergency Department manager for Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital.

“It’s a good law to have in place so we don’t make a person feel more guilty about a difficult decision,” Griffes said. “If they know the child is safe and secure, they know they’ve done the best they can at that moment. It’s very important so we aren’t finding children in the woods. We want to encourage people to put their child in the safest situation that they can.”

Private adoption agencies assume responsibility for the child as soon as medical authorities determine the child has not been neglected or abused and the infant is not more than 72 hours old.

Under the law, an emergency service provider is defined as a uniformed or otherwise identified employee or contractor of a fire department, hospital or police station when the provider is inside the premises and on-duty. Emergency service providers also includes a paramedic or an emergency medical technician when either of those individuals is responding to a 911 emergency call.

The child must be handed over to a provider, not just left on the premises. If left on the premises without making contact with a provider, this is then classified as child abuse or neglect. However, when handing a child over, the parent can remain anonymous and no information is required, Griffes said.

“Our first priority would be to secure the safety of the child, no questions asked,” she said. “We do try to get information, but we don’t push if they are hesitant because we don’t want the person surrendering the child to feel in danger of getting in trouble. From there we are obligated to make sure the proper channels are followed to place the infant with the appropriate agency.”

According to statistics on Safe Delivery at Michigan.gov, there have been 152 recorded safe surrenders throughout Michigan since 2001. This includes one instance in Mecosta County in 2009, when a 28-year-old woman delivered and then surrendered her newborn at the hospital. There have been no recorded surrenders in Osceola County.

Delivering at the hospital and then surrendering the infant is much more common than simply surrendering an infant, with more than 90 percent of the recorded surrenders happening that way.

Either way, the procedure is the same, Griffes said.

“If you come and deliver, and want to walk away from that child, I don’t see the difference than just dropping off a child,” she said. “Even though the circumstances are different, the way we handle the surrender would be the same.”

Although surrenders are rare throughout the state and even more rare in Mecosta County, emergency personnel in the area are trained to jump into action if the situation does arise.

The Big Rapids Department of Public Safety is a surrendering point and staff is aware of protocol if an infant were to be dropped off, said Director Andrea Nerbonne, although it has never occurred.

“If we were to ever receive an infant, we would secure the infant’s safety and go straight to the hospital to make sure they are healthy,” Nerbonne said. “

If someone wished to surrender an infant to DPS after hours, the front lobby always is open and an emergency call box can be used to call firefighters, who would come take the child, Nerbonne said.

While handling an infant surrender is not a something emergency service providers come in contact with regularly, it’s an important law to have, giving options to a mother, perhaps in a desperate situation, who feels she doesn’t have a choice but to abandon a her baby, she said.

“If we can save the life of an infant it’s absolutely worth it,” Nerbonne said.

Although each state’s law differs, all 50 states have some sort of law for the safe surrender of an infant. For more on Michigan’s Safe Delivery law, visit michigan.gov/safedelivery.