Saturday, March 26, 2011

Extreme patient care: Cooing at a baby a violation human rights?

When searching for some fresh human rights material, I came across a curious article in the British newspaper The Times titled "How do you infringe a baby's human rights? Just say 'coo'" (2005). According to the article, some hospitals have outlawed cooing at babies because it was decided that such behavior violates the newborn's human rights. In fact, the article cites a hospital in Halifax, West Yorkshire, where newborns are not allowed to be examined, fussed over or cooed at, and well-wisher have been banned from asking mothers about their babies.

The hospital expresses that a stringent commitment to human rights is at the heart of the issue—they are legally bound to uphold the privacy and dignity of every patient, so why should that of newborns be any different? They claimed that although people may be well-intentioned with their doting and questioning, a newborn is not respected when it is treated like produce in a supermarket. Throughout the maternity unit, signs have even been posted saying, "What makes you think I want to be looked at?"

This idea has, not surprisingly, been criticized by many. The article interviews new mothers who find the rules a ridiculous case of patient confidentiality gone wrong, claiming that they feel offended when people don't ask them about their new baby and fuss over him/her. One mother even goes so far to say that it is cruelty to ask visitors to ignore the newborns, as it deprives them of the attention that babies need.

I'll admit that when I first read this article, it seemed silly to me— crazy British bureaucracy. But the more I thought about it, the more it began to seem almost appropriate. Although a people group may not know about their rights or actively claim them, they still deserve such rights given their inherent humanity (this is pretty much the foundational thought behind human rights). So the same should apply to newborn babies, yes? And just because someone's parent or legal guardian does not agree with the extent to which human rights are ascribed to the person under their charge, are that person's rights no longer valid? Certainly not.

So what do you think? I assume that everyone in this class would ascribe human rights to a newborn, but is this kind of legislation a bit extreme? Although the babies themselves cannot express a desire to claim these rights, is it nonetheless our responsibility to ensure that they are upheld? And what happens when the consequence of these rights contradicts with the wishes of the baby's parents? Finally—and this may be where I disagree with the legislation— are the rights to dignity and privacy really violated by the cooing and questioning of baby-crazy strangers and relatives?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Not my week to comment, but it's hard to leave this one alone...

    An astonishing victory over common sense, made especially ludicrous by the application of the term "human rights" to prop up this disgrace.

    The broad trend in human rights discourse is to make such rights more inclusive, but as this case shows, a certain point is reached where the rights claims being made are detached from any basis in reality or basic sanity. Universal claims require asserting a basic "sameness" of the subjects in question in relation to the rest of humanity, but infants are NOT like adults. This is why they (and I shudder that this has to be said) cannot vote, pay taxes, join the circus, or be appointed to management positions in the UK's National Health Service, though in the last case it may be something of an improvement.

    Privacy is of rather little concern to infants, as anyone who has ever observed the strong tendency towards naturism among their childhood photographs can attest. While one might say that babies do indeed deserve "dignity" in the abstract, such dignity is self-evidently not the same as that as adults; adults, after all, would likely find being breast fed to be rather undignified.

    Babies have a right to parental (and failing that, societal)care for their basic welfare. That is all. That is what they are there for. They are not capable of excercising any other rights. The fact that this has to be said is a deeply disconcerting reflection on the directions that the human rights discourse has taken.

    When you can use the same term ("human rights") to talk about the right not to be tortured and the right of a baby not to be fawned over, the term is approaching total meaninglessness. When human rights encompass whatever cockamamie notion that can be cooked up by bureaucratic busybodies, they cease to have any real meaning.

    In short,anyone who thinks beeing cooed over is an affront to the dignity of a child should be deported forthwith to Mars, since their conception of "human rights" has evidently overwhelmed their basic sense of humanity.


    Here's another case of "human rights" from Britain, which seems to have reached a particularly advanced state when it comes to this sort of nonsense:

  3. I think this crosses a line into violation land when it's been scientifically proven that cooing and picking up the babies actually helps their development and lessens stress for a baby. Think about it, coming out from between two legs is a stressful life event, things like cooing are essential for their relief and calming. Clearly this is ridiculous. Geez.

  4. Thank you Patrick. Although it is not my week to comment either, I share your sentiment that this ridiculousness needs to be addressed. The only thing that I would add is that if 'cooing' is going to violate human dignity, I would argue that it violates the 'cooer' more so than the 'cooee'.

  5. When I think about the rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled, this "right" is the last thing to come to mind. Does cooing at babies really make them less than a human being? I agree with Patrick; when we develop silly arguments and use the concept of human rights to support them, the discussion of human rights becomes tainted. Why is it so hard for the general public to see through these types of issues?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.