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Sleep With Your Baby, Go to Jail 

Some district attorneys crusade against meth. Some crusade against child pornography. But Deschutes County District Attorney Mike Dugan has found a crusade all his own:

Some district attorneys crusade against meth. Some crusade against child pornography. But Deschutes County District Attorney Mike Dugan has found a crusade all his own: He's cracking down on mothers who sleep with their babies.

 
Last Sunday, Dugan announced that if a parent sleeps with a baby and the baby dies, he's going to drag the parent in front of a grand jury. "Almost everybody who has a baby is aware that, if you sleep with the baby and you roll over on top of it, you could kill it," Dugan was quoted in Bend's daily paper. "So you are aware of that risk, and you consciously disregard that risk when you take your baby to bed, and now you are talking about manslaughter. ... The law is the law is the law, and you bet I would take that case to the grand jury. And if the grand jury found negligence or recklessness, then criminal charges would be filed."

The law may be the law may be the law, but DA Dugan's interpretation of it in this area is pretty bizarre. Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, who has a reputation as one of the more hard-ass DAs in Oregon, said he wouldn't prosecute unless there was other evidence of negligence - for example, if the parent had been using alcohol or drugs before sleeping with the baby.


In the local case that inspired Dugan's righteous wrath, a Redmond mother reportedly drank beer, smoked marijuana and took a codeine-based medication before she fell asleep on a sofa with her 10-day-old baby and apparently suffocated the child. In a situation like that, charges clearly seem warranted. All experts agree it's dangerous and irresponsible to sleep with an infant if you're under the influence of intoxicants.

But medical opinion about the general practice of "co-sleeping" isn't nearly as unanimous as Dugan seems to think it is. According to some research, as many as 30% of American parents routinely bring their babies to bed with them - and, of course, co-sleeping is the norm in most other countries of the world. Advocates of co-sleeping say it promotes a stronger bond between parents and babies, makes breastfeeding easier at night and results in better sleep.

Is it dangerous? Hard data is difficult to come by. The Consumer Product Safety Commission - which recommends against co-sleeping - has reported that from 1990 through 1997 there were 121 cases of babies being killed by an adult rolling over on them in bed. But that's not a huge number over an eight-year period - and there's no indication how many of the adults in those cases had taken drugs or alcohol. Some research even seems to indicate the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is reduced if parents sleep with their babies.

If Mike Dugan had simply warned parents of the risks of co-sleeping while under the influence he would have performed a worthwhile public service. But his ham-fisted, sleep-with-your-baby-and-go-to-jail approach was completely over the top - and deserves THE BOOT.

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