Prompted by one family’s tragic tale, Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak (D-Cheektowaga) sponsored a bill that would require the state Health Department to issue certificates of stillbirth for stillborn children at a family’s request (A.8178-A). The measure, which has passed both the Assembly and Senate, is aimed at providing grieving families solace while drawing attention to the incidence of stillbirths. The bill currently awaits the governor’s signature.
“A stillbirth is one of the most crushing tragedies that any family could possibly endure,” said Gabryszak, a father of two. “Making matters worse, these devastated families are left with only a death certificate to testify to the son or daughter they were denied. With this bill, families would have evidence of their child’s brief-yet-memorable life.”
Current law holds that the state Health Department is required only to issue a death certificate in the event of a stillbirth. Under the new bill, families who’d suffered a stillbirth could also request a certificate of stillbirth. The certificate would recognize, by name, that child’s at-least 20 weeks of intrauterine life. However, unlike a typical birth certificate, it wouldn’t offer proof of live birth.
Gabryszak took up the legislation after he was contacted by Jeff Tieger, father of a stillborn child and cofounder of the Daniel’s Star organization – a group dedicated to raising awareness of stillbirths and reducing their incidence. In a heartbreaking story, Jeff and his wife, Lori, lost their son, Daniel Ian Tieger, to stillbirth in 2007. Agonizing over their loss, Jeff and Lori were determined to spare other families their pain, so they set out to call attention to stillbirths and root out future tragedies.
But they couldn’t have known just how many families could relate to their devastation. As they researched the heart-wrenching subject, Jeff and Lori were shocked at what they found: Nearly 2,000 stillbirths occur in New York annually, with more than 30,000 nationwide. Jeff noted that that’s 10 times the number of deaths linked to SIDS, exacting an annual death toll closer to that of AIDS. Most surprising of all, 60 percent of the deaths go undiagnosed, Jeff said.
Armed with that staggering information, and with the support of hundreds of families, Jeff and his wife began their crusade against stillbirth – a campaign centered around compassion and getting the word out.
“There were more than 500 families involved in this incredible effort,” Jeff Tieger said of the bill. “Each family had two goals: First, get the respect and recognition their children deserve. Second, make sure their representatives did what was right. Our babies were born still, but they were still born.”
“If this bill offers even a modicum of comfort to the thousands of parents with stories like Jeff and Lori’s, then it’s a major success, in my book,” Gabryszak said.