“Autumn Joy Stillbirth Research & Dignity Act” Honors Maplewood Family
The General Assembly unanimously approved bipartisan legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt and Gabriela Mosquera to help reduce stillbirths in New Jersey and provide families with assistance to cope.
“Families experiencing a stillbirth suffer severe anguish and may not always be adequately treated with sensitivity and informed about what to expect when a stillbirth occurs,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “This bill will help ensure that these delicate situations are treated with the utmost respect and that the data needed to help prevent future tragedies is collected and analyzed thoroughly.”
The bill (A4280) is designated the “Autumn Joy Stillbirth Research and Dignity Act” after Autumn Joy of Maplewood who was stillborn at 22 weeks in July of 2011. Her family has been meeting with lawmakers and fighting to raise awareness since.
The bill would require the establishment of policies and procedures that will ensure the dignified and sensitive management of each stillbirth and of a family’s grieving process following a stillbirth.
“While studies have identified many factors that may cause stillbirths, researchers still don’t know the cause of a majority of them, in part because of a lack of uniform protocols for evaluating and classifying stillbirths,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This bill will help ensure that data is more consistently collected and more effectively used so that we can better understand the risk factors and causes and more effectively prevent these tragedies in the future.”
Stillbirths are unintended fetal deaths and are traditionally identified as those which occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy or involve the unintended death of fetuses weighing 350 or more grams. Approximately one in every 160 pregnancies in the United States ends in stillbirth each year, a rate which is high compared with other developed countries.
The bill also requires that complete autopsy information related to stillbirths that occur in New Jersey be collected and reported to the state Department of Health (DOH) and that a database be established for research purposes in order to advance the goal of preventing and reducing the incidence of stillbirths.
The database would serve as a research resource and the data would be made available generally for research, without disclosing the personal identities of any individual to which the data relates. In addition, DOH is directed to evaluate the data, which it may do by contracting with a public institution of higher education in the state, a foundation, or other third party.
Furthermore, the bill directs the Commissioner of Health, in consultation with the State Board of Medical Examiners, State Board of Nursing, State Board of Psychological Examiners, and State Board of Social Work Examiners, to develop policies to ensure that families experiencing a stillbirth receive psychological and emotional support.
In addition, the bill requires that the significance of autopsies be discussed with the family and requires the establishment of evaluation protocol to incorporate best practices for a thorough evaluation of a stillborn child.
The bill directs the Commissioner of DOH to report to the Governor and the Legislature within eight years after the effective date of the bill on the findings of the evaluation and to include any recommendations for legislative action that the commissioner deems appropriate.
The measure now heads back to the Senate for final legislative approval.