Loading articles...

Local doctor argues against UN push to ban 'baby boxes'

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – What’s more important: the survival of an abandoned newborn or letting the child know its family history?

As the United Nations pushes for a ban on “baby boxes,” one of the creators of the Angel’s Cradle at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver argues they save lives.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is speaking out against the practice of anonymously dropping off newborns at hospitals, particularly in the European Union, where it has happened hundreds of times in the past decade.

“I’m disappointed by the UN’s opinion but I’m not surprised by it,” says Dr. Geoffrey Cundiff, regional head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Vancouver Coastal Health.

“It’s a controversial topic and there are definitely opposing opinions. I think the UN is really stating one of the main opinions in opposition to the concept, based primarily on trying to safeguard a baby’s right to knowing it’s parents and family history. I agree; that is important. But I think you have to prioritize things and being safe and alive is a priority to knowing your family history.”

The use of “baby boxes” — a safe, anonymous place to leave an unwanted newborn — started centuries ago but began falling out of favour as the concept of the modern social safety net developed in the early 20th century.

“I think there was a theoretical view that if you had a safety net, you wouldn’t need baby boxes,” says Cundiff. “I understand how that perspective developed but, unfortunately, our theoretical views aren’t always reality. The fact is people still do abandon babies. I think you have to be pragmatic when you’re looking at trying to protect babies who can’t protect themselves.”

The Angel’s Cradle — a publicly-accessible and anonymous bassinet at St Paul’s Hospital — has only been used once since it was introduced in 2010, but Dr. Cundiff says the newborn left there ended up safe and the story has a happy ending. If it were to close, he feels there would be no option for women in circumstances where they feel they simply can’t keep a baby.

“They’re desperate and I think it would lead to further abandonment of babies in the community and we know those babies don’t usually do well. Most of them don’t survive.”

Angel’s Cradle is located in a private alcove near the St. Paul’s emergency entrance. When a baby is placed in it, an alarm alerts hospital staff; doctors assess the baby’s health and the child is then put in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family.