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Michigan hospitals offering safe haven for abandoned babies
DEARBORN, Michigan (CNN) -- Last Sunday, a newborn baby boy was found wrapped in a trash bag on a church rector's doorstep in the Detroit area. The infant is now hospitalized in critical condition.
Last month, a baby girl was thrown in a trash bin in Detroit. Someone heard her screams, and she survived.
Cases like these have spurred hospitals in four southern Michigan counties to start Safe Haven for Newborns, a program that allows parents of unwanted newborns to drop off their babies at designated hospital emergency rooms.
In Michigan, child abandonment is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But under this new program, parents who leave their babies at hospitals would not face charges unless the baby has been harmed.
So the word is out, if you're going to abandon your baby in southern Michigan, leave it at an emergency room.
Amnesty for parents
"If you bring the baby to us within 72 hours of birth and if there is no harm deliberately inflicted after the birth, then we take the baby, we ask no questions, and we're grateful that the baby's life has been saved," said Deputy Wayne County Prosecutor George Ward.
The biological parents have 30 days to change their minds. If they don't, their biological rights are severed.
"At that point the child is eligible for adoption and can be placed with a family that can love the child and can raise the child," said Dr. Leland Ropp with Henry Ford Medical Center, one of the hospitals participating in the program.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that in 1991, 65 babies were abandoned in unsafe places. Eight of those babies died.
By 1998, the most recent figures available, those numbers had grown to 105 abandoned babies and 33 deaths.
States take action
The Michigan program is based on a year-old program in Mobile, Alabama, where so far five babies have been left at hospitals.
There now is legislation in the pipeline in Michigan, 13 other states and the District of Columbia designed to encourage parents who feel they can't take care of their babies to leave them at hospitals or health care centers rather than simply abandoning them.
The problem is not limited to the United States. Hamburg, Germany, also has provided a safe way to drop off unwanted newborns. At one facility, the babies can be left on a cot by slipping them through a flap in a door. Sensors in the cot alert the staff at a clinic next door. The baby is looked after for two months before it is put up for adoption.
The programs are not without critics, including some who say mothers who simply drop off their newborns may not get the medical care they need.
Sponsors of the programs admit there are some pitfalls but say they would rather have a baby dropped off at a safe haven than end up in a trash bin.
Hamburg offers babies life before abandonment
Department of Health and Human Services
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