Abandoned babies

Finding a new-born baby in a bag on your doorstep seems to be becoming a minor hazard. Today, one was found in Birmingham. One was found in Liverpool on 25 September. South Lanarkshire on 7th August. A stillborn baby was found in Hackney in April.

It’s not just the UK. A Times article reported that Italian hospitals had introduced a higher tech version of the foundling wheel – a device that lets mothers deposit babies where they could be found – in response to rising numbers. Germany and Japan have “baby hatches”

Baby abandoning is very rare. So you can’t really identify a trend here. Granted, there are always going to be mentally disturbed or desperate or stupid women. There are always going to be individual lives that are tragic. All the same, it bears examination. Typically, mammals abandon their babies under extreme survival stress.. This explanation applies in many parts of the world where lack of access to contraception compound the effect of living on the edge of survival.

So, why is this happening in the richest countries in the world? In Western Europe, an unwillingly pregnant woman can get access to abortion. There are adoption agencies that can’t find enough babies for people who want them. There are a whole range of social and medical services that should enable a child to stay with its mother.

It seems to me that one thing that could contribute to ever higher numbers of abandoned babies is the Fortress Europe mentality. Access to health and social services is increasingly denied to the people who fall under the radar – failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

Ever-tightening ID nets – where access to services depends on ID, as discussed last week – mean that more and more people live in an invisible underclass in the UK. The health impacts include increasing numbers of people without access to basic health care. Which includes contraception, abortion and maternity services.

The consequences could be much more wide-reaching than a potential rise in the numbers of dead and abandoned babies and greater maternal mortality (horrible as these are). What about communicable diseases? Do you really want people without the right ID documents to get treatment to be spreading TB around your neighbourhood?

Public health is public health. Circumscribing access to public health services might seem like a wise move in terms of short-term economic targets. It might make the Daily Mail readership feel that their tax money isn’t being spent on people they don’t want to support. So, there are political forces impelling this sort of exclusionary policy. But it is basically demented.

Medical staff aren’t deliberately not treating socially-invisible people. The system is doing the rationing for them. If you lack an entitlement card, you won’t see a doctor.

The cost of restricting entitlement is much greater than the cost of providing the treatments. Surely, a system could be devised that was flexible enough to stop exploitative health tourism without marginalising people.

Call me as selfish as you like, but I would rather take the chance that the odd illegal immigrant gets their bunions treated courtesy of my tax pounds than that I contract cholera or Ebola because the system offers no point of entry for a sick person.

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