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Birth Certificates for Stillborn Babies

By J.C. Willke, MD

People Magazine, December 11, 2006, published a very compassionate article on the issue of birth certificates for stillborns.

In this magazine, not particularly known for any pro-life tendency, this article is almost a tearjerker and deliberately, or otherwise, sends a strong pro-life message. In it, we pointedly hear a number of stories of stillborn babies, e.g. "She was only about three pounds but she was perfectly formed. She had ten fingers and ten toes, and a full head of dark hair. She was identical to my husband – same nose and chin, and she was gone." This "devastated" couple got some "stunning" news. "We could get a death certificate, but no birth certificate. It was like something out of an absurd dream. How can you have a death without a birth?"

Another bereaved mother from Arizona phoned the Bureau of Vital Statistics to request a birth certificate but, "The woman on the other end said, 'You didn't have a baby, you had a fetus.'"

Not surprising, pro-abortion organizations, while professing sympathy for such mothers, nevertheless oppose the issuing of such a birth certificate, for it might "inadvertently lend support to the right to life lobby."

The article quotes Elizabeth Benjamin [Director of Reproductive Rights Project of the New York Civil Liberties Union] who says, "Because a child would have rights independent of the mother, we prefer the word 'fetus.'"

In response to this, the mother of the first child mentioned above wants to sidestep the politics of the issue. She said, "We don't want to get into the abortion debate. We are not asking for proof that fetuses are living beings," rather, she says, "It is just a matter of asking the state to give us understanding and recognize that we had a baby and she isn't any more."

I wonder if everyone reading this raised his or her eyebrows at the above comments, We are not asking for proof that this is a "living being" we just wanted to recognize that this is a "baby." One is entitled to wonder whether or not "a baby" is also a "living being." But that is what our schizophrenic courts in the United States have been telling us.

But now we have a movement to legalize a requirement for such birth certificates. In the last five years, fourteen states have passed such measures, and others are considering it. This would be a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth, or it could be a birth certificate followed by a death certificate.

A grieving Arizona mother started this effort in 1996, and originally named it "Mothers In Sympathy and Support." Over a few years, however, these laws have become known as "Missing Angels Bills."

This is not a small number as there are 26,000 recorded stillbirths a year in the United States.

Probably, for most parents of born children, a birth certificate is a legal piece of paper to file away or maybe use some day to get a passport, marriage license and things of that sort.

However, for these bereaved parents, it is an acknowledgment of the actual existence of their baby and it says, "This baby was real. We loved him or her and we still do."

The article finishes with quoting an Albuquerque teacher who delivered a stillborn son at thirty-nine weeks. She relates that a nurse bathed and dressed the lifeless infant, and then her father held her and rocked her. She stated, "I loved her. I carried her. I gave birth, and now I want a certificate." The founder of this grass roots campaign, Joanne Cacciatore, will be quick to show you a stillbirth certificate of her daughter and to say, "Now no one in Arizona, who has a stillborn child, will have to be told that she never had a baby."

[We wish to show our warm appreciation to "People Magazine" for this compassionate article, as well as to the authors of this article, Richard Jerome and Susan Keating; Life Issues Connector, 1/07, www.lifeissues.org]