Safely Surrender law saves lives

Published Nov. 26, 2014

Josiah Patterson | Special to Viewpoints

Defenseless, abandoned, and innocent, yet left to die.

That was the fate of little Yachaziel, a newborn girl left on a conveyor belt at the Advance Disposal facility in Hesperia on Oct. 1.

The Garden of Angels, an organization that holds burial services for abandoned newborns and is committed to the prevention of newborn abandonment recently held a service for the newborn.

Debi Faris, founder of the organization, said she could not help but see the potential the baby had.

“This little baby girl, when I went to pick her up from the coroner’s office, was so beautiful and so perfect,” Faris said. “She had a head of dark hair, a button nose and precious little lips, and it is just so, so sad that the mom could not look at her child and see what I saw. I just saw everything of hope and what this little baby girl could have achieved.”

  The newborn was named by the Advanced Disposal employees, according to Faris. Yachaziel is Hebrew for “God sees all.”

Faris initiated the Safely Surrendered Baby Law in California that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2001. The law allows mothers to safely surrender their newborns to a hospital or fire station within 72 hours of birth, no questions asked.

It is intended to save lives by preventing mothers from abandoning their infants.

Faris expressed her concern that the state does not budget enough advertising for this law.

“The state has a lot of issues that they are financially responsible for, but that has always, always been my biggest concern is that this is a state-run program now because it is going through social services and things like that,” Faris said.

Darren and Michelle Doherty are the adoptive parents of Madyson Doherty, a 13-year-old girl who was safely surrendered to a fire station in Rancho Cucamonga during the first year of the law’s enactment.

“Getting the word out there is the problem,” Darren Doherty said.

Michelle Doherty, who is also a member of the Garden of Angels board of directors, shares the desire that all of the public know about this law.

“It is amazing to me because we have been in it so long, targeting and talking to people about it and trying to get the word out there, that there are still so many people out there that do not know about the law,” she said. “The only time you hear about it is when there is a baby thrown out or abandoned. We need to actually have some more celebrity spokespersons, I think, to try and make it a little more out there and accessible.”

The Garden of Angels is active in bringing awareness to the law it started by hosting free speaking engagements.

“We try to get the word out,” Michelle Doherty said. “We go out and we try to educate. Try to get into the junior highs and high schools. That is where it needs to start. They need to know that there are options, not to just hide it and leave the baby. That they can do that without any worry of somebody finding out.”

Faris agrees that the best way to spread awareness is by educating the youth.

“We are the best speakers our youth can have because for us, there are a lot of issues that our young kids deal with, and it is just nice for them to know that they are never really alone,” Faris said. “Some kids make it into an unwanted pregnancy and think ‘Oh my goodness, what am I going to do? My parents are going to kick me out; they are going to kill me … There goes my college, there goes everything,’ while it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s what our mind will tell us to do, to go on the track of fear, but with any issue that a person is facing, they face it fearlessly and confide in someone else, and it is never as bad as it would seem.”

Madyson Doherty has spread awareness for the law by making an appearance on NBC and would like to continue advocating for it.

“She wants to be the face of safely surrendered children,” Faris said. “She sees it as an honor, as a gift that she’s been given. She wants other people to know that life is what you are given and you just take it, and you roll with it, and you try to make a real positive in a negative situation. Madyson has done that, she has been awesome.”

“I love my mom and dad because they are loving and caring,” Madyson Doherty said.

Michelle Doherty sees her daughter’s birth mother as a brave woman.

“Hundreds of babies have been saved and have a chance to be in a loving and happy family now because the law was created,” she said. “Prime example, my daughter could have been thrown in the dumpster or left at a recycling center, but thank God she was not because of that law. I believe her birth mother was brave enough to say, ‘I want a safe place for my child, but I cannot take care of her so this is the next best thing rather than just leaving my baby anywhere.’ She made a very good choice.”

More than 600 newborns have been safely surrendered in California since 2001.

Yachaziel is not the only baby the Garden of Angels has buried that was found in a disposal site. Last year, a memorial service was held for a baby girl found in a recycling plant, according to Michelle Doherty.

Many other newborns have been found abandoned in trash cans and dumpsters. The goal of the Safely Surrendered Baby Law is to prevent these instances from occurring.

“We are human beings, and we need to treat each other as human beings, especially the smallest little ones that are staring at you right in the face and are the most vulnerable,” Faris said. “It is a life or death law, and we need to make people aware of it.”