New Castle News

Editorials

July 4, 2013

Our Opinion: Settlement ends case of infant taken over drug test

NEW CASTLE — It’s often said that America is a litigious society.

And there’s truth to that. There are plenty of people who — when they suffer a perceived wrong — think the best option is to reach for the nearest lawyer.

But it’s also true there are entities that encourage this sort of behavior by failing to right obvious wrongs. A perfect example can be seen in Lawrence County’s infamous bagel baby case.

The story made national headlines. A woman who gave birth at Jameson Hospital in 2010 had a drug test come back positive for opiates.

The hospital turned this information over to Lawrence County Children and Youth Services, which then obtained a court order to remove the infant from the home. At no time did the hospital or county attempt to determine the cause of this test result, even though the infant showed no traces of illegal drugs.

While it’s impossible to say with absolute certainty, the woman and her American Civil Liberties Union attorneys believe the test results were caused by a bagel with poppy seeds she had eaten just before giving birth. Subsequent testing found no indication of opiates. Under certain circumstances and with certain drug tests, harmless poppy seeds can indeed produce a false positive drug result.

This was a case crying for policy revisions. Any parent would be horrified by the notion an infant could be seized by the government without warning or notice and — as it turned out — no justification. The proper thing would have been for Jameson and the county to apologize and devise new procedures that required a little more digging before taking an infant from its family.

Instead, the two entities dug in their heels, insisting their actions were prudent and proper, despite the obvious. And to the surprise of no one, a lawsuit ensued.

Also to the surprise of no one, the county and Jameson are now paying the price. Damages and legal expenses paid as the result of a settlement came to more than $143,000. That total does not include the costs of the defendants’ attorneys.

The argument may be made that insurance companies pay the bills. But we all know that insurance companies have a way of getting their money back, and who ultimately picks up that tab.

Meanwhile, the settlement also obliges the county and hospital to alter their policies, mainly to look a little more closely at test results. That should prevent a repeat of this episode.

It’s unfortunate that decision wasn’t made back in 2010. This incident is a reminder of how government at any level, if left unchecked, can run roughshod over individuals. We hope that some lessons were learned.

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