Big Nanny Takes a Bath

Posted: Jun 06, 2001 12:00 AM
Every night, I roll up my sleeves, take off my socks, and climb into the bathtub with my 11-month-old daughter, her two rubber duckies, a Mickey Mouse sponge, and a pile of floating toy debris. She splashes and squirms incessantly, but I have at least one hand on her at all times and never, ever take an eye off of her while she's in the water. How parents bathe their children should be no one's business -- and no one else's responsibility -- but their own. But thanks to pressure from Big Nanny liberals like New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the government has torn down the shower curtain and belly-flopped into our bathwater. In an attempt to rescue inattentive parents from themselves and their children, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted unanimously last week to regulate baby-bath seats. Mary Sheila Gall, the only Republican on the panel and President Bush's nominee to become its next chair, switched her vote in a desperate attempt to appease Sen. Clinton -- who is in hysterics over the commissioner's past opposition to needless government intervention. Millions of responsible parents have used baby-bath seats, which conveniently prop babies upright in a plastic seat or ring, safely. But if the federal bathtub police get their way, the CPSC's rule-making maneuver could lead to an outright ban on the product. Left-leaning consumer activists -- who once pushed the devices as the solution to bathtub accidents -- now attack the manufacturer for causing some 78 infant drowning deaths over the past two decades. An honest look at the evidence shows that parental negligence, not product design, is to blame for most of the tragedies. The CPSC staff blames baby-bath seats for an estimated 8 drowning deaths a year. Even CPSC panel member Thomas Moore, a Democrat appointee who supports new regulation, disputes that. Because there is so much contradictory information about many of the cited cases, he admitted, the fatality statistic is "somewhat of a misleading number both as to defining the scope of the problem and as to our ability to solve it." According to the manufacturers, all but three of the bath-seat deaths over the past two decades occurred when a child was left alone. In one case, a drunken mom left her infant in a bath seat with the water running -- which drowned the baby and flooded the house. In other cases, parents left older siblings alone in the tub with infants -- whom they lifted out of the bath seats and dumped in the water. These terrible accidents, it should be noted, are a small fraction of the total number of infant drowning deaths. About 50 babies die in bathtubs every year. One of the most outspoken advocates for banning bath seats is a case study in the futility of her cause. Stephanie Vozenilek of Iowa blames "loose suction cups" on the bath seat for her 7-month-old daughter's drowning death last summer. But would more regulation really have saved her baby? Vozenilek admits that she briefly left the room where she was washing her daughter in the bath seat. What was so urgent that she had to leave her child unattended in a tub of water -- which is exactly what the label on the box of her baby-bath seat clearly warned her not to do? She says she ran down the hall to hang up a shirt. "It was two to three minutes at the very most," Vozenilek claims. My heart truly goes out to Ms. Vozenilek, but it seems painfully clear that she -- and she alone -- acted in a way that proved fatal to her baby. Why should the bath-seat manufacturer (and the millions of other parents who use its products responsibly) pay for her bad judgment? Who's next: bathtub makers? faucet fixture stores? the water utilities? This regulatory capitulation is just another example of common sense and individual responsibility gone down the drain.