February 21, 2014

Committee approves bill providing burial following miscarriage

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

All mothers who suffer a miscarriage would have the option of providing a burial for their preborn baby under a bill which the Senate Health Committee passed by an 11-0 vote on Feb. 12. The House passed the measure on Jan. 30 by a vote of 92-3. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the legislation.

Indiana law allows unborn babies less than 20 weeks to be disposed of as medical waste, rather than allowing parents to have the remains for a burial.

House Bill 1190 would change that by allowing parents who suffer a miscarriage to have a say over what happens to the remains of their baby. The fetus could be disposed of at the hospital via incineration or discarded as medical waste, or the parents could arrange for a burial.

Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, author of the bill, told the Senate panel, “Some might think this is a minor issue and perhaps so, but essentially it is a notification issue. It began with a ministry that came to me that works with families who suffer a loss of a child through miscarriage.

“Currently, parents are allowed to direct the remains [of an unborn baby following a miscarriage] after 20 weeks gestation,” said Slager. “This bill essentially allows the parents the opportunity to make that direction regardless of the length of the pregnancy. And it requires notification of available options.”

Glenn Tebbe, executive director for the ICC, who serves as the official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Indiana on public policy matters, testified in support of the bill.

“All human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, from which each person derives her or his dignity,’ he said.

“Therefore, it is proper and appropriate to treat fetal remains with dignity and respect as one would the remains of a more developed fetus because of the nature of the remains,” Tebbe continued. “It is appropriate to assist the parents to grieve the loss of their child and to provide for proper burial.

“The Catholic Church supports the bill as positive public policy respecting the dignity and sacredness of all persons.”

Many hospitals already provide a burial option for parents following a miscarriage at these earlier stages of fetal development, but that is a voluntary hospital policy not mandated by law, according to Tim Kennedy, who represented the Indiana Hospitals Association at the hearing. Kennedy told the committee that the Indiana Hospitals Association is supportive of the legislation because it provides closure for the parents. He added that the remains are treated appropriately.

The pain a mother faces at the loss of her child is like no other. The age of the child does not mitigate this pain, according Jill McNamara, a volunteer with Elizabeth Ministry, an international organization offering encouragement, hope and healing on issues related to childbearing, who has led the effort for the legislation.

“Mothers have a very special kind of grief,” McNamara told the panel. “When mothers lose a child, science now shows there is a biological connection of that mother and that child more so the earlier that the pregnancy is terminated because those cells did not go to the baby for the full term of the pregnancy. They remain with mom for about 40 years.”

McNamara explains that while death can end the life of the baby, it will never end the relationship with the baby.

“We can delay the grief, but we cannot deny that the grief will happen at some point in that mother’s life. It is unhealthy to think that you can deny it. We can’t deny the human grieving process,” said McNamara.

“A mother who has lost a baby due to miscarriage has not given birth to medical waste” as current law classifies them, she noted. “These mothers first need to have their babies recognized,” and then the mothers need to be given a chance for burial, proper grieving and closure.

Mary Glowinski, an Indianapolis resident who testified in support of the bill, told the committee, “In 1978, I miscarried my baby at four months at home. I had my baby in my hand, and was taken to the county hospital. They took my baby. I never saw may baby again. I [have] lived with that for 36 years.”

She told the panel that it wasn’t until her son and daughter-in-law suffered a miscarriage nearly 20 years later, and she went to the burial service at St. Francis that Glowinski realized what was taken from her in the grieving process by not being allowed to have a burial service when she suffered her miscarriage.

According to McNamara, currently there are 15 states that have statues similar to House Bill 1190, and she hopes all other states will join the effort to pass similar laws affecting the burial following miscarriage.

House Bill 1190 now moves to the Senate floor for approval. Tebbe said he expects the bill to pass the Senate.

The Indiana General Assembly only has a few weeks left to conduct legislative business because the body must adjourn by March 14.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org. To explore the ICC’s electronic public policy tool and join the ICC legislative network, go to the ICC website and click on “Legislative Action Center.”)

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