Editorial: The facts of childhood deaths must not be hidden from society

Steamboat Today (Steamboat Springs): There is nothing more heartbreaking than the death of a young child, unless it’s a death resulting from child abuse.

And it’s with that in mind that we oppose a bill under consideration in the Colorado State Legislature that would withhold juvenile autopsy reports from public release. We are not indifferent to the agony that parents and siblings experience when a family member is lost to criminal behavior — far from it.

Newspaper reporters absorb and process the accumulation of human tragedy they write about over time, less directly, but similarly to the way law enforcement personnel, child advocates and coroners do.

Editors of responsible community newspapers do not publish the details of autopsies on children who were abused for prurient reasons. Instead, they think long and hard and seek the counsel of colleagues before publishing those details. When they take that step, it is out of a commitment to ensuring members of our society are not oblivious to the violent crimes carried out against helpless children.

Juvenile autopsy reports can currently be withheld if it is determined disclosing the documents would cause “substantial injury to the public interest.”

We believe that to go further, and enact legislation that restricts the press from reporting the causes and circumstances of a childhood death to protect an already grieving family, is going too far. To do so would be to risk hiding, in a dark closet, the mortal peril that young children sometimes face. That would be a mistake, given that bringing those tragedies to light is one of the best ways to motivate society to increase protections for children at risk.

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