Symbolic Birth Certificates

24 02 2008

A Move for Birth Certificates for Stillborn Babies
The New York Times: LINK

The sudden shift from what she called “a perfectly wonderful healthy pregnancy” to delivering a dead infant was unfathomably painful, said Ms. Edber, 27, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Daniel.

“The experience of giving birth and death at the exact same time is something you don’t understand unless you’ve gone through it,” Ms. Edber said. “The day before I was released from the hospital, the doctor came in with the paperwork for a fetal death certificate, and said, ‘I’m sorry, but this is the only document you’ll receive.’ In my heart, it didn’t make sense. I was in labor. I pushed, I had stitches, my breast milk came in, just like any other mother. And we deserved more than a death certificate.”

So Ms. Edber joined with others who had experienced stillbirth to push California legislators to pass a bill allowing parents to receive a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth.

In the last six years, 19 states, including New Jersey, have enacted laws allowing parents who have had stillbirths to get such certificates. Similar legislation is under consideration in several more, among them New York. More than 25,000 pregnancies a year end in stillbirth, generally defined as a naturally occurring, unintentional intrauterine death after more than 20 weeks of gestation. A cause for the death is usually not determined.

To thousands of parents who have experienced stillbirth, getting a birth certificate is passionately important, albeit symbolic.

“It’s dignity and validation,” said Joanne Cacciatore, an Arizona woman who started the movement after her daughter, Cheyenne, was stillborn 13 years ago. “It’s the same reason why we want things like marriage licenses and baptismal certificates.”

But politically, the birth-certificate laws, often referred to as “Missing Angels” bills, occupy uncertain territory, skirting the abortion debate while implicitly raising the question of fetal personhood.

Many antiabortion groups say the laws fill a need for parents. But some abortion rights supporters see the push for these laws as a barely disguised political move to undermine abortion rights…

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