Gathering Place
Anne K. Clarkin

Sunday, July 24, 2005

If mother is not
responsible for her
child, then who is?

A contingent of individuals and organizations is asking that the manslaughter conviction of Tayshea Aiwohi be overturned (Star-Bulletin, July 6). Aiwohi's conduct in deliberately smoking "ice" (crystal methamphetamine) during her pregnancy -- up to and including the day of the child's birth -- was determined to have caused the child's death. The infant died from a fatal level of "ice" in his blood.

Aiwohi caused her son's death as surely as if she had used a knife or any other weapon. Her plea and subsequent sentence of probation is not "punishing women for failing to have healthy pregnancy outcomes," as if she hadn't eaten enough vegetables, taken vitamins or exercised. It was a lenient sentence imposed on a woman who consciously chose to ingest an illegal substance with knowledge that it would certainly be detrimental and possibly fatal to the health of her developing fetus, a woman who made that choice again and again, each time she held the ice pipe to her lips and inhaled.

Tayshea Aiwohi listened to defense attorney Todd Eddins before changing her plea from not guilty to no contest of manslaughter charges.

The rationale for the appeal seeking to overturn the conviction suggests that it would frighten pregnant women away from health care. Women interested in having healthy babies are not smoking ice. How about the value of discouraging drug-addicted women from having babies, babies who are fated to die from their parent's addiction, by way of neglect or abuse, or who suffer from mental and physical abnormalities and health-related difficulties that might last their entire lives? Who are the victims here? The children usually are, and will continue to be should the Aiwohi decision not be upheld.

Is holding Aiwohi responsible for the death of her child a "terrible disregard for pregnant women reflecting a profound misunderstanding of the nature of drug dependency?" Or is our community demanding that she take responsibility for the choices that she made leading to the death of her child? If Aiwohi, robbed a bank, stole a car, burned a building, drove while stoned or committed any other crime under the throes of her crystal meth addiction, she would be no less culpable than she is today, responsible for the poisoning death of her son by her own hand.

Let us not forget that the child, not the mother, is the victim here.

Anne K. Clarkin is a deputy prosecutor for the City & County of Honolulu. This column expresses her personal opinion.

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