Forum Bioethics

The Controversy Around Baby Drops – One Year After the Opinion of the German Ethics Council

Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Leibniz-Saal, Markgrafenstraße 38, 10117 Berlin

Prof. Dr. med. Christiane Woopen, Stellvertretende Vorsitzende des Deutschen Ethikrates, Deutscher Ethikrat, Fotograf: Reiner Zensen

Topic

Baby drops and anonymous birth spur controversial and emotional debates. Since 1999, church-affiliated and other independent institutions and hospitals in Germany have been offering the option to anonymously relinquish in a baby drop or after a medically assisted birth. Anonymous baby drops are intended to prevent newborns from being killed or abandoned. However, there is no evidence that this is successful. Anonymous childbirth aims to offer the option of a medically assisted delivery for women who wish to keep their maternity a secret.

However, the offers are ethically and legally very problematic and have serious consequences for the children, who have to bear the burden of anonymity for the rest of their lives. It also affects mothers and sometimes fathers, who are cut off from contact with their biological children for the rest of their lives.

In November 2009, the German Ethics Council recommended to abandon the existing baby drops and previous offers of anonymous birth, to strengthen public information on the existing legal assistance and to enable pregnant women or new mothers by law to “surrender a child confidentially with a temporary anonymous report”. This proposal was met with strong reactions. On 23 February 2011, together with representatives from providers, politics and the media, the German Ethics Council discussed the developments that have occurred since the publication of the Opinion at an evening event in the “Bioethics Forum” series.

  • How did the public respond to the Opinion of the Ethics Council?
  • Which aspects of the Opinion received special attention and which went unnoticed?
  • What are the effects in politics and among those institutions offering baby drops and anonymous birth one year after the Opinion?