Blood alcohol testing of caregivers of children who die of unintentional injuries or assault

The head of New Zealand’s child death review committee is calling for blood testing adults suspected of being drunk when a child dies from an accident or assault. Dr Nick Baker says parental intoxication is a factor in New Zealand having the developed world’s highest rate of sudden unexplained deaths of infants (SUDI), and in many deaths in driveways and swimming pools. Baker made the persuasive point that although it is an offence to drive a car when drunk it is not an offence to look after a baby in the same condition. Accordingly, police don’t have the authority to test caregivers.

Other experts have mixed views on blood testing caregivers after a child’s death. Dr Jean Simpson said it was more important to educate parents about the dangers of drinking when they were responsible for children. And the head of a paediatric emergency department said car accidents were a much greater cause of alcohol-related child deaths. Comment: Somewhat puzzling was the concern of the president of the Police Association that blood testing parents after a child had died would imply the parent was to blame. Instead he suggested that if alcohol were suspected this should be reported to the coroner. As far as I can tell, this seems pointless because it would then be too late to test! I am also surprised at the suggestion that the solution is to educate parents; very little evidence supports that idea. Does anyone know otherwise?

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