Ethics watchdogs call for end to baby hatches

Ethics watchdogs call for end to baby hatches
Photo: DPA

Germany’s baby hatches, which allow mothers to give up their children anonymously, have been called into question by the German Ethics Council, which has deemed them morally “problematic.”


There are some 80 Babyklappen across the nation meant to provide parents with a safe and legal way to surrender newborn infants to state care. The concept, which dates back to medieval Catholic churches, was instituted in Germany in 1999 to help prevent infanticide.

But on Thursday the Council said that the hatches, which parents have used to give up some 500 babies so far, should be closed because the most at-risk women fail to use them and they deny children the right to know their origins.

“The German Ethics Council suggests that pregnant women and mothers in emergency situations be aided as much as possible without damaging the rights of others - their children in particular,” a statement said.

The organisation called for a renewed dialogue about how to improve prenatal social services for women.

On Friday, the Catholic Women’s Welfare Service, which oversees 19 baby hatches, said the call for change deserved recognition.

“We simply can’t continue this way,” the organisation’s leader Maria Elisabeth Thoma told daily Frankfurter Rundschau, adding that the legal concerns of the Ethics Council were convincing.

She encouraged the German government to find a way to insure legal certainty for the mothers and children in such situations.

Meanwhile deputy parliamentary floor leader for Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), Ingrid Fischbach, told daily Rheinische Post that the country needs a new legislation to protect the rights of mothers and babies.

“We want a law that insures confidential birth and improves the counselling services for pregnant women in need,” she told the paper. This law would include temporary anonymity for women who wished to give up their babies. After a limited period of time their information would be handed over to the civil registry office where it could potentially be accessed by their child.

Despite baby hatches throughout Germany, gruesome cases of infanticide and child abandonment still continue to make national headlines. The most notorious case involved a woman jailed for 15 years in 2006 for the manslaughter of eight babies.

Sabine Hilschenz, a divorced, unemployed and alcoholic dental assistant from a depressed area of eastern Germany, hid the corpses in buckets, flowerpots and an old fish tank at her parents' home.

In October, the remains of four babies were found in a Berlin apartment following the suicide of their alleged mother. Later the same month a man’s dog found a dead infant along Munich’s Isar River bank.


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