How do you legally deny children

Anonymous birth and baby flaps
A blessing or a curse for those affected?

by Dr. Gabriele du Bois,
Chairwoman of the ethics committee of the German Association of Women Doctors
Updated post December 2011

Baby flaps, in which mothers in need can anonymously hand in their newborns, are now available in many German cities, mostly at clinics. Nationwide there should be over 80. An anonymous birth, in which the mother's data is not recorded and which is therefore illegal, is also made possible in emergencies in many clinics (approx. 130) in order not to endanger the health of mother and child. With the endeavor to help these women, voices are repeatedly raised to legalize anonymous birth in Germany. But medical societies, adoption experts and also the German Ethics Council with its opinion of November 2009 have pointed out the dangers of a change in the law.

It is with horror and consternation that one learns again and again from the media of mothers who abandon or kill their newborn child. Often these women hide the pregnancy from those around them, even deny it from themselves. When the child is born, they panic and want to get rid of the child. Some women abandon the newborn in their desperation, others are so distraught that they kill the child.

One wonders how can a mother do such a thing? How can you help mother and child in such a situation? The number of abandoned children is given as around 30-40 per year in Germany. Over half of the children are found dead, and no one knows how high the number of unreported cases is. However, according to crime statistics, the number of newborns killed by their mother has decreased over the decades. In 1954 there were 153 registered cases, in 1971 there were 55, in the years 1999 - 2009 between 29 and 43 cases (German Ethics Council, 2009).

In April 2000 the Hamburg youth welfare association "Sternipark" set up the first baby hatch. There you can hand in a baby anonymously. It remains in a foster family for eight weeks and is then given up for adoption if the mother no longer contacts her within a year. According to information from "Sternipark", an organization that mainly operates day nurseries in Hamburg, 38 babies were deposited in their baby hatches in nine years. The mothers had previously given birth to these children alone and at great risk.

The "Sternipark" initiative started another campaign to enable anonymous birth in the hospital. This means that mother and child can receive optimal medical care during delivery without having to provide any personal information. So far 320 women are said to have given birth anonymously with the help of "Sternipark"; about half of the mothers decided to take the children back.
In Germany, doctors and midwives are obliged under the Civil Status Act to report a birth to the responsible registry office, stating the mother's personal details. That is why there have repeatedly been initiatives at the state and federal level calling on the federal government to create the legal requirements to enable an anonymous birth in special emergencies.
Proponents of the legalization of anonymous birth and baby flaps hope to prevent the abandonment of children or the worst case - namely the killing of a child. They want to help women in their apparently hopeless situation and save the lives of foundlings. If the possibility of an anonymous birth can save the life of just one newborn child, then the change in the law has already proven its worth, we hear again and again.

However, the critics of the baby hatches and the anonymous birth ask: "Are the children really put in the baby hatches that would otherwise have died?" and "Is it really the women who secretly gave birth to their child and then abandoned it or even killed it, who are now going to give birth anonymously?" As early as July 2001, Prof. Dr. Dr. Mechthild Neises and Prof. Dr. Anke Rohde from the German Society for Psychosomatic Gynecology and Obstetrics, both members of the DÄB, gave a critical opinion on the planned legalization of anonymous birth to the Federal Minister of Justice at the time, Prof. Dr. Herta Däubler-Gmelin. They pointed out that neither scientific surveys nor empirical findings have proven that precisely these women can be reached with this offer.

A study by the Institute for Forensic Medicine at the University of Kiel on infanticide from 1980-1989 in the Federal Republic of Germany showed that mothers who kill their children are not very planned. They do not worry about the birth process because they have suppressed the fact that they are pregnant. This would mean that they would not be receptive to any offer of help of any kind.

Neises and Rohde also pointed out that women are "surprised" by the birth after a concealed or denied pregnancy. In the sense of a stress or panic reaction, the newborn is then killed or abandoned. Due to their personality structure and their lack of coping mechanisms, women with such problems will hardly be able to accept the possibilities of an anonymous birth or a baby hatch.

But which women are there who accept the offer of an anonymous birth that is already available? Which women put their child in a baby hatch? Professors Neises and Rohde suspected that women with pronounced psychosocial problems would use the offer. This includes women who are unintentionally pregnant and are pressured to give birth anonymously by someone close to them. These include women who live illegally in Germany, drug addicts and prostitutes. Or it is women who realized they were pregnant so late that an abortion is no longer an option. They evade the difficult decision-making process of whether to raise the child themselves or to give it up for legal adoption. These women could understand this path as "offered", that is, one that is publicly legitimized and recommended by society, and they could opt for an anonymous birth. This consideration seems to have been confirmed in recent years. It is estimated that through the anonymous child handover offers, since their introduction, well over 500 children have become foundlings with permanently anonymous origins.

When it comes to giving up a child for adoption after the birth, which has long existed, the mother is informed and looked after by experienced adoption brokers. Your personal details will be kept in the records of the youth welfare office. Adoption research has shown that the greatest possible openness is best for everyone involved. When everyone knows about each other, children are most likely to come to terms with the fact that they have two pairs of parents.

However, the anonymous birth prevents the child from being able to find its birth mother again. It is also difficult for the mother to find her child later on. Prof. Dr. Christine Swientek from the Department of Special Education at the University of Hanover is one of the leading adoption researchers in Germany. She describes how many mothers suffer greatly from having given away their child. These women are more likely to have psychosomatic illnesses and are more likely to be suicidal. After years they experience what they would not have thought possible at the time of adoption: that they want to find their child again.

It is even more important for the adoptive child to know their birth parents, even if they grew up with adoptive parents in an enormously positive environment. A constitutional court ruling even gives a legal right to the fact that a person is allowed to know his or her genetic origin. In the numerous publications on the search of adoptees for their parents, the problems of finding identity are discussed: Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am i living Who do I belong to? Who belongs to me

The adoptive parents will also suffer. What initially seems like an advantage will become a problem for you throughout your life: Should you lie to the child ("You are our biological child") or should you tell the child the truth ("You have been abandoned / left in the hospital")? Both are terrible for the child. Keeping silent or lying can lead to mental and psychosomatic illnesses, suicidal tendencies and behavioral disorders of all kinds.

The critics of the legalization of anonymous births and baby hatches, to which organizations such as ProFamilia and terre des hommes belong, but also psychotherapists, pedagogues, social scientists, adoption researchers and self-help organizations of adopters, fear that these measures will not reach those women who abandon or kill their child. They also warn that the number of foundlings will be increased because an offer of legal suspension is being created.

In France, where anonymous birth has been allowed since 1941, around 600 children of the so-called "Generation X" are still born every year. If this is transferred to the size of Germany, we can expect over 800 legal foundlings per year. For these adopted children, the worst conditions for a healthy identity formation would be created. They will not have any chance of contacting their birth parents, siblings or other relatives. In France, opponents of anonymous birth have achieved partial success after years of fighting: the mother has to leave data behind. The files can be viewed by the adoptee at the age of 18 with the consent of the mother.

Another danger is that anonymity allows the abuse of baby hatches and anonymous birth. Who can check whether a child is voluntarily placed in a baby hatch or whether a woman is not forced by a partner, parents or even a pimp to give birth anonymously to her child and then give it up? Abuse could also be committed on the part of the partly purely private initiatives that these nameless and homeless children accept. These children could be "sold" quickly and unbureaucratically on the adoption market as "coveted goods".

As expected, there is no unanimous opinion among the members of the German Medical Association on the recommendation to discontinue the offer of baby flaps and the possibility of an anonymous birth. However, the experience of recent years confirms the warnings of the critics. The number of newborns found dead or exposed does not change. On the other hand, the number of anonymous foundlings seems to be increasing. The legal offers of help available in our country for pregnant women and mothers in emergency and conflict situations must be better known and trust in these offers of help improved. Bringing a child up for legal adoption must be respected as a responsible form of trade. The use of the anonymous child deposit, however, leads to facts that cannot be changed, namely that a child cannot find its birth parents and, conversely, mothers and fathers can no longer find their children.