A young Pennsylvania mother has settled her lawsuit with the hospital where her daughter was born in 2010 and with Lawrence County Children and Youth Services, which took custody of the child shortly after its birth. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the agency and hospital have also changed their policies regarding positive tests for opiates in new mothers.
Elizabeth Mort of New Castle, Pa., was awarded $143,500 for the emotional pain and suffering she was made to endure after she tested positive for opiates in a predelivery screening. It turns out that two hours prior to checking in at Jameson Health System, to deliver her baby, Mort had eaten a poppy seed bagel.
Mort, whose daughter was taken on the basis of the positive reading, said. “I am happy that the changes made by [the agency] and the hospital will prevent similar situations to others in the future.”
Sara Rose of the American Civil Liberties Union was Mort’s attorney. She said that one of the most important policy changes resulting from the case is that the hospital will henceforth base its drug tests on the infant’s meconium, or first bowel movement, rather than on the mother’s urine. The hospital also agreed that it would talk with parents about potential causes of a positive drug test before contacting the county agency.
Hospital staff never informed Mort or the baby’s father that there had been a positive test. The two thus were taken aback when police officers and two caseworkers knocked on their door the day after they returned home with their newborn daughter.
U.S. District Judge David Cercone ruled in pretrial motions last September that the county’s policy of separating a mother from her newborn child “without any valid basis for doing so” was an arbitrary use of government power that “shocks the conscience.”
In a separate lawsuit still pending, Eileen Bower, also of New Castle, is suing the county agency and hospital for taking custody of her son for 75 days based on a test result that showed a “trace” of opiates.