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Coroners review Idaho infant death laws

IDAHO FALLS – County coroners say they are taking steps to ensure that infant fatality investigations are as thorough as anywhere in the nation, although Idaho remains the only state with no system for reviewing child deaths.

Coroners from around the state met Friday in Idaho Falls to discuss rules that the Department of Justice is implementing for investigations of suspected sudden infant death syndrome.

In Idaho, coroners are legally responsible for investigating all deaths resulting from violence or under suspicious or unknown circumstances.

With an estimated 5,200 cases of SIDS in the United States each year, federal investigators are concerned that some coroners may wrongly be determining SIDS in cases of accidental death, death from abuse or other causes.

Coroners in Idaho will be expected to attend Justice Department training sessions, said Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg, who led the discussion, the Post Register reported.

The Idaho Association of Counties’ board of directors voted in April to develop a mandatory training program. Penalties for non-compliance remain undetermined, but Sonnenberg said county commissioners would likely have the power to replace coroners who don’t get the training.

Between 1997 and 2003, Idaho had a group of doctors, law enforcement officials and others that examined child deaths, but the panel disbanded, partly because it had trouble obtaining medical records after the passage of federal medical privacy legislation.

Child death review panels helped create programs on child car safety restraint education, home storage of firearms and canal safety and fencing.

A bill that would have created a new infant death review team was blocked in the Legislature this year by Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, chairwoman of the Senate health and Welfare Committee.

The proposed review team would have had full confidentiality, immunity from subpoenas and clearance to obtain all records concerning unexpected child deaths in the state. Lodge said Idaho could just use information that other states gathered in reviewing their child deaths, adding that she feared the bill would expose parents to liability.


 

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