Tuesday, July 01, 2008
No Accident Unpunished
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch performs its simple hard-hitting journalism in sounding an unnecessary klaxon calling for more government oversight and regulation. This time, again, a tragic accidental death of a child should lead (in a perfect Post-Dispatch world) to more government regulation and intrusion. The accident:
    A year ago last Thursday the Blechas' second son, Nathan, died at age 4 months in a portable crib in Lutz's home, after being placed on his abdomen for a nap. The St. Louis County Medical Examiner's office ruled the cause of death "re-breath," the breathing in of carbon dioxide exhaled by the baby, who was too young to turn his head away from a wrinkle in the mattress.

    The next day, Lutz shut the day care for good.
Here's what we glean from the bits:
  • The death was an accident.

  • The caregiver, riven by guilt, left the profession the next day.

  • The paper is not reporting on an accident; instead, one year later, it's reporting on the parents of the dead child and their crusade to Make Sure Their Child's Death Was Not In Vain.
The call to government control:
    According to state records, Lutz had obtained a license to cut hair and one to practice massage, but when it came to child care, she never applied to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' Child Care Regulation section. That's the unit that inspects day cares and issues licenses for people routinely caring for more than four unrelated children.

    Nathan's parents say they have been waiting "for the system to kick in." But nothing has happened: no criminal charges, no fines, no outrage and no reform of a child-care oversight system that the Blechas feel did little to prevent or recognize Nathan's death.

    Steve Blecha said he called the Jefferson County sheriff's office early this year and was told the death had been ruled accidental.

    He also learned that the most Lutz could be fined for operating without a license was $200 — a fine so small that Blecha said it didn't matter that prosecutors didn't pursue it.
Of course, the article goes into detail about how the government can only fine unlicensed day care facilities and cannot bring down the wrath of the gods upon them. I suppose the "journalists" and certainly the tragically affected parents would like MURDER ONE charges or something to make the people who've thought twice THINK TWICE about having accidents, but jeez.

A license probably won't prevent every accident. It will, however, raise the cost of doing business as a baby sitter/day care, which in turn will drive out conscientious people who won't pay the money. Then, when the people who cannot afford au pairs need to drop their kids off while they work, they will turn to less conscientious family members, and further accidents will occur.

I hate it when children die, but I also hate it when their deaths lead to knee-jerk statist action that will have unintended consequences worse than the initial accident precipitating the knee-jerk reaction.

But the papers? Man, they love standing up for the outlier since the little guys have already been accommodated.

It could be worse. After all, what killed the poor kid? The dreaded carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that's going to do in every last one of us unless we start living in mud huts again.

"worse than the initial accident"??? So, you're saying that having a babysitter who *won't * put an infant down in a dangerous position that might cause death is worse than having a babysitter who *will*?

Nathan's parents aren't trying to make every single person who babysits get a license and raise prices so much the world is going to end. They are, however, trying to raise awareness and help ensure other parents don't experience the same tragedy they did. Licensed or not, one adult can't safely take care of 10 children. It's dangerous - period.

Obviously, you didn't pay attention to what Nathan's parents are trying to achieve. It's not "MURDER ONE charges or something to make the people who've thought twice THINK TWICE about having accidents". And, the babysitter didn't "think twice" and err on the safe side. She knew what she was doing was dangerous and she did it anyway. She said so in the article.

Regulations aren't always bad. If you're left to care for an infant, and that infant dies because you did something wrong, there should be a law to punish you.

Leave your high school level political debate class and stop trying to be a political ideologue. This isn't a question of liberal or conservative, this IS a question of LIFE OR DEATH. You weren't there to see the looks on Nathan's parent's faces when they walked through the ER doors with his empty car seat expecting to bring him home, then realizing they never would. Your sophomoric beliefs on "government regulation and intrusion" belong somewhere else besides child care regulation.

The bottom line is human beings left with the responsibility of other *helpless* human beings can't be irresponsible without repercussion.

I'll leave aside your anecdotal evidence about Nathan's parents and how they reacted; these are appeals to emotion and not logic.

I'll leave aside your comments on my debating skills; this is ad homenim, a logical fallacy.

"worse than the initial accident"??? So, you're saying that having a babysitter who *won't * put an infant down in a dangerous position that might cause death is worse than having a babysitter who *will*? is a straw man; I never said that. Also, a mere regulation nor regulatory apparatus nor educational requirement to babysitting won't prevent this.

So, once we get beyond your logical fallacies, Annoyed, I think your argument is that regulations would save lives, and that Nathan's parents are all about educating babysitters.

However, you've said that the babysitter who was responsible for Nathan when he died knew she was putting him in a dangerous position. It's unclear to me how a license or a regulation would have prevented her from doing the same.

It does sound an awful lot like you're agitating for "regulations" to bring murder charges against people who are left watching children. Oddly enough, there are child neglect sorts of charges used to great effect in these cases, possibly too often, since they apply to other sorts of accidents when family members, etc., are in charge of the infants.

No, what this article if not Nathan's parents want is a regulatory machine that will build a new state bureaucracy, will price some responsible people out of the business, and will serve as a revenue stream for the state with all the revenue shortfall-related increases. In all, it will provide a burden on the industry and has not been proven to prevent enough accidents to make it worthwhile.

And, sorry, I'm not going to deal with the if it prevents one accidental death, it's worth it! gambit because that does not make economic sense, and one could apply that same argument to prohibiting most behaviors.

I am Nathan's mother and I can flat out tell you what his parents want. We want to prevent what has happened to us from happening to anyone else, and if that saves one infant,s life it is worth it no matter what the cost. You can not put a price on someone's life especially your children's. I can only assume you do not have children or maybe you would think of these things.

Bottom line the laws either need to be changed or a law needs to exist. The existing laws for unlicensed day-cares in MO are so pitiful that you can't even really say they are there. No one enforces them and therefore children's lives are at stake. This is what we are trying to change. I realize that home day-care is much more affordable for most people, and we are not trying to stop home day-care. We are just trying to make sure they follow the law and if a tragedy happens, such as ours, then they should be held responsible. I am not saying being charged with MURDER ONE, but something needs to be done. They are running a business and like any business if someone is hurt or dies while in there care they need to be held responsible. If you were hurt at work at no fault of your own, your work would have to compensate you. The same should be true for our children especially infants who are completely helpless. She knew what she was doing was wrong when she laid him on his stomach and therefore needs to be held responsible for her actions.

It is worth it to save a life especially a helpless infants. How you can even say that it is not just baffles me.

Mrs. Blecha -

I'm horribly sorry for your loss of your son. We have two small children - boys - the oldest of whom just turned two.

Brian's point was and continues to be that there's no measureable tie between changing the laws and the saving of an infant's life (or two, or six, or 27). Ultimately as parents we decide (and should decide) who cares for our children when we're away. No government program, license, or law should take the place of parents' judgment or even provide false assurance that because government agency X said it's ok, by golly, this person/business would never have a problem; even if these things are in place, they are certainly no guarantee at all that another accident will not occur. So it's not a logical tie to say that more government intervention will solve this particular problem. That (hopefully in softer language - is Brian's point). Government intervention makes a larger mess of things. Our best babysitters are a 70 year-old woman and a 14 year-old girl. Oh, and grandmothers, of course.

Heather Noggle

Heather and Brian, I'm Nathan's aunt, and I can tell you that my example of "anecdotal evidence about Nathan's parents and how they reacted" is what I saw first hand with my own eyes.

Of course there is a tie between changing laws and saving lives - seat belts, car seats, drunk driving all have laws relating to them to keep people safe - and alive. I know that you two don't understand what its like to loose a baby because of someone's recklessness, and I pray that you never do.

If you google the terms 'infant reflux' the first site to come up has a link on the front page 'Sleeping tips'. Click it and the first paragraph states: "do not place your baby in the prone position without first consulting your doctor."

One might reasonably expect a practicing care provider to know this. One might reasonably expect this to be part of a curriculum said care givers would need to complete to obtain a license.

One might reasonably expect that a regulation mandating such a license would have prevented this.

Well, I was going to let this drop, but since Mr. Blecha has seen fit to call me a coward for doing so, I guess I'd better respond.

if that saves one infant,s life it is worth it no matter what the cost. You can not put a price on someone's life especially your children's.

I hate that particular absurdity. Is it worth a billion dollars from each Missourian to save an infant? Why, that's absurd! you might respond. Well, I'm not the one who said no matter what the cost. Not that that particular cost will be that high, but it will not be negligible, and mandating a licensing regime removes the choice from the hands of citizens and will put those costs into their hands instead. I could live with a voluntary regime, sort of like how the state certifies organic food, but compulsory education, probable inspections of people's homes at any time, and all that sort of thing doesn't sit well with me.

Now, the preceding Anonymous poster uses the word reasonably an awful lot; perhaps the point is that I'm then irrational when I disagree. It's hard to say what a "practicing care provider" should know. Even doctors, who are licensed and undergo rigorous training, don't know all conditions and diseases and make all sorts of dangerous and hazardous mistakes.

Ergo, perhaps it's reasonable to wonder what impact new licensing would have on care providers, other than to drive some out of business and to make that resource--someone to watch your children economically--scarce.

Licenses don't prevent automobile accidents, bad haircuts, or botched operations. I don't see why they would prevent accidents in child care facilities. Perhaps an investigation of accident rates in licensed providers would be illustrative; if accidents still occur at those facilities with licenses, perhaps they're not the panacea hoped for to prevent rare accidents from happening when an unlicensed provider watches children.

Just so we're clear, I really do feel for your loss. However, I disagree with your public policy on the matter.

Heather makes the point fairly eloquently... A law here would not have saved a life. Given that the care taker knew of her mistake, education wouldn't have helped either. She was already educated. Education and laws are thus clearly not an answer or solution to anything in this particular case.

Mrs. Blecha states:
"They are running a business and like any business if someone is hurt or dies while in there care they need to be held responsible."

I disagree, to a large extent. I would however, agree to the following adjustment of the aforementioned statement:

"They are running a business and like any business if someone is hurt or dies while in their care, due to negligence or illegal behavior, they need to be held responsible."

Dealing with negligence is different than dealing with illegal behavior, however.

One of the issues at hand in this discussion may be the result of a lack of understanding when it comes to existing laws.

Legal recourse already exists. The individual can be charged for the crime that was committed. In this case, the crime is not being licensed and the fine is $200 (seems rather paltry), and you can pursue it if you choose.

In addition, you have every right to sue the organization for negligence. This, after all, is exactly what lead to the death of the child - negligence. The organization hired somebody who was not compliant with the law, and the organization allowed negligent behavior which resulted in death. This law suit should be easy. Negligence is not necessarily a crime, but it is justification for a civil suit.

Here's my beef: Failure to sue leaves me wondering why you would have the government and the rest of the citizenry deal with the issue when you do not.

You can sue the organization, you can sue the individual, and you can launch a communication campaign to let the community know what happened at that specific day care facility. Again, negligence is the problem, you can let the world know who is negligent, and you can sue. I would encourage you to do so, as it is your right.

Generally, I will not support new laws that govern how a child must be positioned for nap time, or on what schedule they should eat, or any other responsibility that belongs to the parents. Such laws tend to dictate how a parent can legally raise a child, and I oppose community child-raising. It is the parents' responsibility.

Please keep in mind - laws are not preventative. A law does not prevent a crime. Consider, murder is illegal, but it still happens. A law simply dictates that a given behavior is legally unacceptable and applies a remedy / punishment for violators who are caught. As mentioned above, you can already punish the parties in question and demand remedy. You do this through a civil law suit.

Now, since this whole discussion is about the vague suggestion that "something should be done under the law," perhaps you can suggest EXACTLY what law you would like to see on the books - then we can have a real debate at the merits/pitfalls of such a law. Otherwise... this is all broad generalization.

I do understand and agree with Brian's assertion that the St. Louis Post Dispatch is generally too inclined to place the responsibility for people's problems on the community/government.

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To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."