ctnow.com/opinion/hc-ed-death-certificates-20130222,0,561122.story

CTnow

EDITORIAL

Hiding Death Certificates Can Hide Wrongdoing

The motive is to spare families grief — but passing a flawed law isn't the way

6:43 PM EST, February 22, 2013

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Connecticut wisely makes death certificates available to anyone, but that openness is threatened in the wake of the Newtown murders.

Several legislators testified Wednesday in favor of a bill making death certificates of children under 18 unavailable to the public. The motive is to spare the families of Newtown murder victims more grief. But passing a flawed law isn't the way to do it.

Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown, a freshman in the state House, introduced the bill to make the documents off-limits "when the disclosure of the death certificate is likely to cause undue hardship for the family of the child."

When death certificates are hidden from public view, however, so are the wrongdoings that cause some of those deaths.

Death certificates have been used by newspapers to investigate fatalities at child-care centers; baby deaths wrongly attributed to sudden infant death syndrome; and preventable deaths at Georgia's state psychiatric hospitals.

The Hartford Courant used death certificates in its investigation of deadly restraints at mental institutions. A quarter of the deaths the Courant looked at were of children under 18. The stories resulted in federal legislation outlawing physical restraints of children.

Death certificates of those under 18 have also been used by amateur genealogists and adoptees to trace their families.

Despite claims, the proposal would do nothing to prevent identity theft. Public death certificates have no Social Security numbers.

Restricting access now in the name of compassion may make public scrutiny impossible in the future.