Background: In 2001 the Austrian government provided the legal means that formally enabled "anonymous birth": a woman can now give birth in any hospital in Austria without giving her name or insurance number, the baby is taken into care by social services and placed with adoptive parents. The cost of the hospital stay is covered from public funds. These measures were put into effect after some highly publicised cases of infant abandonment and neonaticide in Austria. Methods: In the mostly rural and small-town province of Tyrol province in western Austria (687,000 inhabitants, 7000 births per year) four cases of neonaticide were discovered in the years from 1996 to 2004. One child was abandoned inside a hospital. Since 2001 two women have made use of the "anonymous birth" option. Neither had had any pregnancy controls, both showed up at or near term with contractions. They delivered healthy infants that were then taken into care by local adoption services. Both women were extensively counselled by psychologists, social workers, medical and midwifery staff and both insisted on their original decision to remain anonymous. A few weeks later one of the women found herself at the centre of a criminal investigation for infanticide after anonymous letters were sent to family members insinuating she had done away with the child. Police stopped that investigation when hospital staff confirmed that the woman had had an "anonymous" delivery. Results: Despite the option of legal "anonymous" birth free of charge in modern hospitals there are still cases of infant abandonment and neonaticide in Austria. It is proposed that the women who opt for anonymous birth may not be the women who would otherwise kill their babies. Instead, it appears that the women opted for anonymity to escape the probably well-intentioned but overbearing attention of their families and of social services. It is doubtful that the option of anonymous birth will lead to a complete disappearance of infanticide and infant abandonment in Austria.

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Zeitschrift fur Geburtshilfe und Neonatologie
Department of Immunology

Danner, S. A., Pacher, M., Ambach, E., & Brezinka, C. (2005). Anonymous birth and neonaticide in Tyrol. Zeitschrift fur Geburtshilfe und Neonatologie, 209(5), 192–198. doi:10.1055/s-2005-916172