Mothers Will Get Baby’s DNA Sample

February 28th, 2011 by Kim Lenz

RICHMOND – Virginia hospitals will have to offer new mothers a take-home DNA sample from their baby under a bill approved at the request of the forensic sleuth who inspired the fictional crime fighter, Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

Both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously approved House Bill 1836, sponsored by Delegate John O’Bannon, R-Henrico. The bill now goes to Gov. Bob McDonnell to be signed into law.

O’Bannon said the bill will give families a way to identify their child if something happens to the youngster.

“I feel it is something important,” O’Bannon said. “It is just a good thing to do.”

The baby’s DNA will come from a blood sample taken during the regular newborn screening. The blood can be taken from either a stick on the bottom of the infant’s foot or from “cord blood” – the blood taken from the infant’s umbilical cord. The blood then would be put on a blot sheet for the family to take home and keep.

The bill requires hospitals to offer the DNA sample, but that does not mean the mother must say yes. If a mother objects to having the blood sample taken, the hospital will not collect it.

O’Bannon brought the legislation before the General Assembly on behalf of Dr. Marcella Fierro, Virginia’s former chief medical examiner. Fierro performed autopsies and identifications on people who died in Virginia for 34 years. She was the inspiration for Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the lead character in Patricia Cornwell’s best-selling crime novels.

Fierro said her retirement in 2008 gave her the time she needed to work on passing this legislation. She said the DNA is important because there are few ways to identify young children. Hospitals take footprints from newborns, but Fierro said those can be useless.

“In 34 years as a medical examiner, I have never been able to identify someone from a footprint,” Fierro said.

She also noted that if a child is adopted, the adopted family’s DNA can’t be used to help with identification.

HB 1836 faced some opposition on its journey through the assembly. Fierro said the Virginia Healthcare Association was opposed at first. The group was concerned about costs and liability if medical complications occurred when a hospital drew an infant’s blood.

Fierro said the sample would cost less than $1, and she dismissed the concerns over liability.

“[Hospitals] have a hundred opportunities a day to kill you with errors, and they don’t. I would trust them 100 percent to take a blood sample,” Fierro said.

The association eventually changed its position and supported the bill.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, challenged the language of the proposed law, which consists of just 30 words: “Every hospital providing maternity care shall offer to obtain a sample of blood from an infant born at the hospital and provide that sample to the mother of the infant.”

McEachin suggested that the bill may be unconstitutional because it says “mother.” He proposed an amendment to change that gender-specific word to “known parents.” The amendment was rejected, and McEachin voted in favor of the bill anyway.

O’Bannon said HB 1836 specified mother because the blood sample would be taken right after the child is born while the mother is in the room with the baby.

The only state with a law similar to HB 1836 is Florida, where 41 hospitals offer blood samples.

If the governor signs the bill, Virginia’s law will take effect in July 2012.

2 Responses to Mothers Will Get Baby’s DNA Sample

  1. Anonymous

    February 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Over 15 years ago, when my first child was born in a small town in rural CA, we were given a card with a spot of her cord blood on it before she was even taken out of my arms. The same occurred with my second child several years later. It was routine procedure on the maternity ward to collect such samples, and we weren’t asked if we wanted to participate or not. At the time I found the practice a bit fatalistic, but since then, I often have thought of that sample, now in our safe deposit box, and have been glad to have it.

  2. Anonymous

    February 28, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Blood draws are painful for infants, and taking a blood
    specimen from the umbilical cord blood is not!
    Which would you rather have?
    Few doctors initiate conversations with expectant parent(s)
    about the option of having stem cells preserved for possiy
    future use. That implies lack of support for the option of having
    matching stem cells that are much more valuable than adult ones
    ready and available, should a need for them arise for the mother,
    baby, and 50% match siblings.
    That averts time and money costly matching procedures such as
    bone marrow volunteer searches, as well as transplanted unmatching cells causing “graft vs host” disease. Canada set up their own laboratory for saving harvested umbilical cord blood stem cells, upon
    their citizens’ wish to preserve them using the stem cell banks in the USA. Conserving health care costs is greatly improved when matching stem cells are available to treat leukemia, sickle cell anemia and other diseases proven to be cued, now.
    Research now is ongoing for stem cell treatment of most autoimmune
    diseases such as diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Sjogrens Disease and many genetic abnormalities that may possibly be reversed early in life.
    Saving a sample of umbilical cord blood and/or collection of stem cells unique to individual people is also useful if a baby or child becomes separated from family, for identification purposes – much better than finger printing (which can be a traumatic experience for young children) when the purpose of it is explained.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login