Bioethics Discussion Blog: Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Ina Cochran in the Supreme Court of Kentucky: Is A Pregnant Woman Criminally Responsible for Her Fetus During Pregnancy?

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Ina Cochran in the Supreme Court of Kentucky: Is A Pregnant Woman Criminally Responsible for Her Fetus During Pregnancy?



Case No. 2008-SC-000095, Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Ina Cochran in the Supreme Court of Kentucky: Is A Pregnant Woman Criminally Responsible for Her Fetus During Pregnancy?

Here is the legal and ethical issue as presented by National Advocates for Pregnant Women 15 W. 36th Street, Suite 901 New York, NY 10018 as the organization has been trying to get ethicists to join an amicus curiae brief in support of the defense for a case to be heard by the Supreme Court of the State of Kentucky very shortly.


“Ms. Cochran gave birth to her daughter Cheyenne on December 29, 2005. Both she and her daughter, who was born otherwise healthy, tested positive for cocaine. Ms. Cochran was charged with endangerment of a child, and her attorney filed for a motion to dismiss, citing Commonwealth v. Welch, a case where the Supreme Court of Kentucky held that child endangerment statutes do not apply to the context of a woman's relationship to the fetus she carries. Cochran's motion to dismiss was granted, but the State appealed.

The appellate court held, that despite binding state supreme court precedent and Kentucky law that requires issues of drug use and pregnancy to be dealt with solely in the public health sphere, that in light of feticide laws and unborn victims of violence laws meant to punish a third party's acts against a pregnant woman, the state's child endangerment statute can now apply to the pregnant woman herself.

Not only does that appellate court decision effectively overrule Welch, based on highly faulty reasoning, it also undermines Kentucky's Maternal Health Act of 1992, which states ‘the General Assembly finds it is necessary to treat the problem of alcohol and drug use during pregnancy solely as a public health problem by seeking expanded access to prenatal care and to alcohol and substance abuse education and treatment programs.’

The Maternal Health Act's enlightened approach, which is in line with the position statements of practically all medical and public health organizations promoting treatment over incarceration in order to improve maternal and fetal health, is under attack by the Cochran appellate decision. Furthermore, by blurring the line between third party acts and a pregnant woman's experiences during her pregnancy, this case focuses squarely on whether the state can view a pregnant woman in relationship to the life she carries as no different from a stranger, or a batterer, a drunk driver, or a man who brutally kills a pregnant woman."


The question is whether a woman who uses cocaine during pregnancy and gives birth to a child is guilty of criminal behavior such as endangerment and should be prosecuted as such. If so, what is the difference in this situation between a pregnant woman smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, risking the fetus life by riding a motorcycle or not wearing a seatbelt while driving, permitting implantation of 8 embryos created through in vitro fertilization knowing the risks involved to some of the fetuses she will be carrying . If it is true that “the state can view a pregnant woman in relationship to the life she carries as no different from a stranger, or a batterer, a drunk driver, or a man who brutally kills a pregnant woman” doesn’t that essentially reverse the Roe vs Wade decision that an abortion at the request of the woman is legal? What do you think? Where does one draw the line? ..Maurice.

Graphic: Original photograph from Wikipedia subsequently digitally modified by me using Picasa 3 and ArtRage.

1 Comments:

At Tuesday, February 17, 2009 9:51:00 AM, Anonymous Sigrid Fry-Revere said...

The intention of the woman is important. If she intends to carry the fetus to term, she has certain obligations to the baby she intends to bring into the world. This does not mean she can't changer her mind and decide to abort, but as long as she has the intention of bringing a child into the world, both from a public policy and personal responsibility perspective she should be obligated to try to do right by that child. Now the debate really begins: What is doing right by the future infant? And, is changing her behavior within her power? Is the mother sick, addicted? Or, just plain negligent?

There are many specific questions that need to be answered. For example, was she already a cocaine addict before she conceived, or did she start using knowing she was pregnant? Another important question might be what constitutes significant enough harm to justify punishing a pregnant woman. Certainly no stricter rules should apply than what happens if a parent makes a bad judgment regarding a child. For example, how does society punish a parent who knows a child is smoking cigarettes? Does age make a difference?

These are all questions worth exploring and way too hard to answer in just one post.

Sigrid Fry-Revere
Center for Ethical Solutions

 

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