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'Civil remedy' proposed for unborn child deaths

Posted: March 10, 2014 - 11:06pm
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, gives an overview of House Bill 258 as Chair Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, listens during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting at the Capitol on Monday. The bill establishing a right of action for the death of an unborn child in certain circumstances.                               Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, gives an overview of House Bill 258 as Chair Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, listens during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting at the Capitol on Monday. The bill establishing a right of action for the death of an unborn child in certain circumstances.

Jon and Kimberly Goodwin’s son may not have ever taken a breath, but his name is attached to a proposed law giving grieving parents the chance to sue if their unborn child dies because of someone else.

The proposal is being called “Jackson’s Law” in memoriam of the Goodwin’s son, Jackson, who died in December of 2012 after a failure in the health care system, his parents said.

“Our son was nine-and-a-half pounds — he was fully developed — but the only thing that separated him from breathing was the health care that was provided that day that was a mistake,” Jon Goodwin said.

The bill, SB200, would “complete statutes” under Alaskan law pertaining to the wrongful death of unborn babies, according to its sponsor, Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage.

Members of the Senate Judiciary committee considered SB200 on Monday but took no action.

Currently in Alaska, wrongful death of an unborn baby is a criminal offense, but there is no civil recourse for parents. This bill allows parents to sue over the wrongful death of an unborn child.

“Sometimes the path to justice comes out better through a civil remedy, and sometimes a family will have a better path to justice through both remedies,” McGuire said, adding that deterrence is one of the primary intentions of the bill.

The bill specifically exempts cases of legal abortions, instances that occur during regular medical procedures and situations where the mother herself causes the death.

Alaska is one of just 10 states that do not have statutes covering the wrongful death of an unborn child under civil law, according to the Washington D.C.-based Americans United for Life.

“Tragically, Alaskan parents of unborn children who lose their lives because of the wrongful acts or omissions of others cannot receive this justice,” Mary Harned, staff counsel at Americans United for Life, told the committee.

“Wrongful behavior which results in the death of an unborn child carries the same social and emotional cost as that which results in the death of a born human being,” she added.

Several families relived their stories of losing children in a manner that would have been covered under this law. The recurring theme was the reach and longevity of the emotional trauma on the parents and other family and friends stemming from the children’s untimely deaths.

“These were fully developed children that should be here today. They’re not fetuses,” Jon Goodwin said. “The loss of a child is some of the worse pain we can feel in our lifetime.”

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, asked for the input of doctors and nurses who could face liability under the bill.

“This is going to lead to a huge amount of lawsuits against doctors and nurses,” he said.

The committee is expected to take the bill up again Wednesday.

• Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jon Goodwin's name. The Empire regrets the error. 

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