Monday, November 17, 2008


A five year old boy has been abandoned at a medical center Nebraska. It was perfectly legal. In fact he is the 34th child to have been abandoned under a state law intended to ensure superior care for infants by making it legal for parents incapable of supporting their babies to put them in the keeping of the state. The law did not include an age limit, however, and minors up to 17 years of age have been dropped off.

The state legislature is meeting at the time of this posting in a bid to change the law.

Tragically, there is a steady trickle of stories about young mothers who put their newborns in garbage cans. Speaking in terms of signs, symbols, and metaphors, the act is one of the most incredible crimes to contemplate. And yet, in all these cases, it is impossible not to feel heart-wrenching sympathy for unprepared mothers who felt that there was nowhere and no one in the world to which they could take their baby. Nobly, Nebraska's legislature wanted to change that.

Nebraska is not the only state to have such a law, but it was the only state not to have an age limit. The changes that are being proposed raise difficult questions about our society. At what age does the state refuse to take a child whose parents do not want it? Some legislators have said that the age should be as high as 15. Some say it should be 3 days. In other states, a child's first birthday is the cut-off.

I would hope that whatever age they decide on would be before the child is conscious of having been abandoned. Then again, at what age do we, as a society, want children to lose the opportunity to be fed, clothed, housed, and educated by people who are willing to provide for them rather than by parents who are forced to, begrudgingly?

If the Nebraska state legislature can agree on a new bill, it will take effect as soon as the governor signs it. One wonders if there are parents at this moment speeding to Nebraska, to take advantage of the law before it expires.

(Thank you to Neonatology for the image of London's Foundling Hospital, circa 1750)