Press Release 07/2009

The German Ethics Council rejects criticism of its Opinion on the anonymous relinquishment of infants

The Chair of the German Ethics Council (DER), Edzard Schmidt-Jortzig, today (Tuesday) stressed that, contrary to the accusation voiced by some critics, the Ethics Council on no account placed less value on a child’s life than on a child’s right to a knowledge of his or her origins.

In fact, having carefully examined all the available evidence, the Ethics Council has concluded that women at risk of abandoning or even killing their child are not reached by offers of baby drops and other facilities for the anonymous relinquishment of infants. Furthermore, the number of children killed has not fallen as a result of the availability of facilities for anonymous infant relinquishment, while forensic and psychiatric studies suggest that the assumption that women who killed their child would have been in a position to leave him or her  in a baby drop is unfounded.

The availability of facilities for anonymous birth and institutionalized baby drops sends out a fundamentally false signal by presenting them as a seemingly normal option. It must not be forgotten, in the ethical evaluation of the availability of facilities for the anonymous relinquishment of infants, that the overriding moral precept is the strengthening of parental responsibility. Society should therefore not offer any incentive, whether direct or indirect, for parents to be released from their responsibility. For a pregnant woman or mother in a situation of emergency or conflict, it is much more useful, depending on her individual circumstances, to have access to practical help and counselling, and these are in fact already available on an anonymous basis.

Germany has a country-wide network of readily accessible counselling centres and adoption agencies which are professionally concerned with the problems of pregnant women and mothers and which can assist with the relinquishment of an infant to state-run bodies without the need to violate the child’s right to a knowledge of his or her origins. More publicity should be given to the availability of these assistance services, which should be augmented and provided 24 hours a day.

In the words of Professor Schmidt-Jortzig, “the conclusions ultimately arrived at by the Ethics Council were specifically based on the practical experience of facility providers, obstetricians, the authorities responsible for child, youth and family welfare and for adoption, and psychologists.”

Past attempts to place baby drops and anonymous birth on a legal footing have repeatedly failed owing to constitutional objections.

On the other hand, the statutory basis proposed by the Ethics Council, of “confidential relinquishment of infants with temporarily anonymous registration”, would be compatible with the Constitution of the Federal Republic. It would assure pregnant women and mothers in emergency situations who felt unable to resort to the official assistance services of a reasonable period of maximum possible confidentiality for solving their problems in the context of counselling and ongoing help, while at the same time minimizing the harm done to the interests of children and fathers, such harm in any case being only temporary.

An English version will be available in due course.