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Lawmakers Push to Criminalize Some Co-Sleeping Deaths


A push is underway in Wisconsin to criminalize co-sleeping deaths if the adult has been drinking. The city of Milwaukee has been working for years to curtail co-sleeping deaths, as their numbers have climbed. Now a few legislators feel it’s time for a law. They offered their reasons at a hearing Wednesday at the state Capitol.

Doctor Jason Jarzembowski admits Milwaukee faces a problem with co-sleeping deaths. During the past three years, 45 babies here have died sleeping next to adults. Despite the rising numbers, Jarzembowski opposes legislation to criminalize certain cases. He’s chair of the Safe Sleep Initiative at Children’s Hospital. Jarzembowski says a law could produce unintended consequences.

“Criminalizing intoxicated co-sleeping will not serve as a deterrent to the behavior, which is the goal. But rather encourage delay in reporting and less honest disclosure of the circumstances surrounding the infant death,” Jarzembowski says.

Jarzembowski says besides, only 20 percent of co-sleeping deaths involve drugs or alcohol. He says a better deterrent would be to spend money educating more people about the dangers of co-sleeping.

“Criminalizing co-sleeping under certain conditions, such as when drinking or using drugs, sends a loud message that co-sleeping is safe when you’re sober. It is not,” Jarzembowski says.

“This is not a ban on co-sleeping,” Sen. Alberta Darling says.

Republican Sen. Alberta Darling insists co-sleeping is not the problem.

This is a bill very similar to similar to the shaken baby syndrome that we all supported and focuses in on the child,” Darling says.

Darling and fellow Republican Sen. Leah Vukmir say their objective is to end preventable deaths.

“I look at this as an opportunity to focus in on the most egregious of cases. The victim in this case is the child, not the parent,” Vukmir says. 

Vukmir says the fact that drugs and alcohol are involved in only a small percentage of co-sleeping deaths should not excuse those who do it.

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