What is more painful than the death of a child? Another death of a child.
Governor John Hickenlooper made a tough call, and the right call, when he vetoed a bill about autopsy reports on the death of a minor.
It was a bill fraught with emotion. It curbed public access to information about the death of a minor, with, wrote the Governor, “the very laudable goal of protecting families from additional pain caused by public knowledge of a child’s death.”
So why did Hickenlooper veto a bill with such a laudable goal? No one wants to add to the already indescribable pain of parents who have lost a child.
Here’s the thing. Public disclosure of the circumstances of the death of a minor often leads to the prevention of future tragedies. “History shows,” wrote Hickenlooper in his veto, “that bringing tragedies to the public attention is the greatest catalyst for public policy change.”
Positive changes in law and procedure have followed journalistic exposure of all of the following horrors:
• Child neglect.
• Child abuse.
• Trafficking of children.
These horrors have come to light, and have led to change, only because there was no law preventing the disclosure of this information. The law that the Governor vetoed would have forbidden the disclosure of this information, and was especially flawed by broad language that limited the disclosure not only of youth suicides, but any death of a minor.
Hickenlooper did not issue his veto lightly, since it is commendable to protect families of deceased children from continued pain. “We remain persuaded, however,” wrote Hickenlooper in his veto, “that sunshine on uncomfortable and painful topics such as youth deaths can lead to more positive outcomes for other youths, stemming from how we collectively react to the knowledge of youth deaths. An informed public has societal benefits for all at risk children, present and future.”
In other words, after a tragedy, the primary focus shifts to stopping it from happening again. Hickenlooper’s veto facilitates that.
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