The case of a Utah couple accused of killing their baby in by sleeping in the same bed with him has re-ignited the debate over whether babies should sleep in a “family bed” or be left in a crib on their own. Trevor Merrill and Echo Nielsen have been charged with child-abuse homicide and reckless endangerment in the 2006 death of their son Kayson and have pled not guilty. The sad and disturbing twist in this story is that the couple’s first child also died of positional asphyxia in 2003 — in other words, from sleeping with them.
From National Public Radio:
Defense attorneys argued there wasn’t enough certainty to go to trial after the medical examiner also cited illness and low birth weight in his report. But the appeals court disagreed, saying Utah judges have previously allowed experts “relying on their training and knowledge to provide opinions that do not amount to medical certainty.”
Kayson Merill was put to sleep on his back, but found dead on his stomach.
He was too young to roll over on his own as a baby, evidence that “supports a reasonable inference that Trevor Merrill actually caused the infant to stop breathing by co-sleeping,” according to the court’s opinion.
The judge in this case has refused to dismiss the charges against the couple, reasoning that because their first child died under similar circumstances they may have played an intentional role in the death of their second child or at the very least were aware of the risks of co-sleeping and were therefore negligent in caring for their baby.
There is something to be said for the right to raise your children as you like, and I know of many people who sleep with their babies in the bed with them safely and without incident. Experts also say that it’s also possible that a congenital sleep disorder similar to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome could have played a role, although no research indicates that such disorders are hereditary so it would be odd for two children to meet the same fate. But the thought that these deaths may have been intentional or due to negligence is, sadly, not sounding very far-fetched. I have to wonder what’s really going on here and how it will affect prevailing thought on the safety of co-sleeping.