Anne Jordan was a contributing editor to GOVERNING.E-mail: email@example.com
Today, my friends the Kulicks should be celebrating their second daughter's first birthday. But Victoria won't be blowing out a little candle on a cake. In fact, she never drew a single breath--having been stillborn at 35 weeks on October 4, 2004.
I just received a package in the mail that included poignant reflections on that devastating event by her parents, David and Yelena, and a crayon drawing by sister Nicole. It also included a fact sheet on stillbirth, a First Candle/SIDS Alliance brochure (funded, I noted with interest, by the New York City Council and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and the opportunity to make a donation to a memorial fund.
In looking over the materials, I was surprised to learn of the many public policy issues relating to the 26,000 stillbirths that occur each year in the U.S. For example, according to the National Stillbirth Society, there is no uniform post-mortem protocol at the national, state or local levels nor is there any central repository for autopsy findings and other data that might help researchers identify the causes and reduce the incidence of stillbirths.
And it wasn't until 2001 that Arizona became the first state to issue a "Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth." (Last year, that state also added a $2,300 income-tax exemption to assist families with funeral expenses and other costs incurred with stillborns.) Thirteen states now provide such a certificate on request, and another seven issue a "Certificate of Stillbirth." In the remaining 30 states, families receive only a fetal death certificate.
Some legislators, it seems, are reluctant to address these issues, at least in part out of fear that they will ignite a firestorm of debate about when life begins. But others clearly have seen fit to champion grieving parents' assertions that treating babies who have been delivered, hugged and buried as "nonexistent" or "invisible" defies common sense and hinders the healing process.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.