There are times when you just have to wonder what has become of the world.
This week, I received a press release about a new innovation - the baby drop-off box - which is being used in Indiana and will soon probably be available across the country.
Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.
If you don't want your child, you toss it in the drop box, like last week's library books or DVD movies you decided you don't really want to see after all.
It's even drive up, like a fast food joint. Because goodness knows we're too lazy to get out of the car to abandon our babies these days.
I honestly couldn't believe it when I read it. I thought it was a sick prank or something. It's not.
In fact, the Knights of Columbus are paying for the first 100 boxes to be installed in places where people are likely to enjoy the convenience of dumping their offspring.
They seem very proud.
From what I can tell, the boxes are about the size of a large microwave oven. You just knock some bricks out of a wall, and pop it in place. It looks like there is a cheap little pad in there to put the child on, you close the cover and you're free to go on with your life, no muss, no fuss, no responsibility, no conscience.
There are little holes punched in the cover so the baby can breathe, like kids do with frogs they capture in a plastic butter container.
The boxes are supposedly climate controlled so the baby won't freeze or die of heatstroke. They are also supposed to be hooked to some kind of alarm so that someone will know to come and get the baby after the parent has split. It doesn't say what happens when the alarm fails, or nobody notices it.
I'm stunned. Baby drop-off boxes. Even animal shelters don't have drop-off boxes - we couldn't imagine treating an animal that way.
Have we really come to this point - when life is respected and valued so little that babies are to be cast off in a drive-up box?
"Baby Moses" or "Safe Haven" laws began to be put in place in the late 1990s. Iowa joined the movement in the wake of a 2001 case in eastern Iowa where a teenage mother killed her home-delivered infant. Safe Haven laws allow a parent to drop off an unwanted baby - usually up to two weeks or a month old - at designated locations. Depending on the state, these may include hospitals, fire stations, police stations, churches or with a 911 EMT). There are no questions, no repercussions.
Apparently that isn't easy enough.
You can't get much more anonymous than stuffing your newborn into a steel drive-by box.
Don't get me wrong, I understand the intention here.
In 2002, Storm Lake buried a child that was dumped into the garbage. The body eventually went through the machines at the recycling center and was badly damaged before being discovered. The little boy was between 24 and 48 hours old. A reward was offered, but no information was ever found, and the death remains a cold case today. I attended the baby's funeral. There are no words.
In 1995, a baby's body was found in a dark closet of a boarded-up vacant mobile home in Storm Lake where it had been left to die, wrapped in an old sweatshirt. That baby boy was less than two days old. At the funeral, a children's choir sang "Like a Little Child." There was a single red rose and a teddy bear placed on the tiny casket, barely bigger than a bread box. The baby was never identified, and was buried as "Baby Doe, Child of the Storm Lake Community."
I still think about it. That child would be my son's age today, perhaps a senior in college.
I get it, I do. We've sought to make it easy, anonymous and consequence-free to dump infants, because the alternative may be even worse - the kind of tragedies that Storm Lake has known in the past.
It is a hard way to start a life, to be certain - thrust into the hands of a stranger by a mother you will never know who does not want you. Or now, to be left alone in a steel drop box. But as the thinking goes, at least that child does get a chance to start life.
A loving home can be found (all 22 Safe Haven babies in Iowa to date have been adopted). That most humble of beginnings need not necessarily hamper them from leading a good, loved life.
I understand, too, that not every parent who abandons a child is a bad person. A young woman in crisis herself may face some terribly difficult decisions. If she is unable to care for a child, uncertain what to do, she may grasp for the last resort in desperation.
I can't imagine the difficulty in making that decision, in wondering for a lifetime if you did the right thing. You can only pray that someone in that situation finds peace, and that they (I would like to imagine) hope, their child has a better chance with someone else than they could have given it.
Safe Haven laws have been controversial at times, but 22 children in Iowa have a chance to grow up because of it, and for those lives, we should be very grateful.
If drop boxes will save one child's life, do it. God help us, do it.
It is not Safe Haven laws, or baby drop boxes, that are the problem. They are well-meaning responses to a much greater societal ill.
Someday, we will have to address that problem in which children become throw-aways. For now, all we can do is try to save one child at a time.