Woman Charged With Murder of Newborn Because She Ate Rat Poison While Pregnant

On January 3, 2011 Bei Bei Shuai clung to her three-day-old dying baby, Angel, for five hours as she steadily faded and died. Distraught, emotional and under heavy sedation, Shuai was directly transferred to the mental health wing of the Methodist hospital in Indianapolis.

It was only half an hour after Angel had passed that a detective from the Indianapolis homicide branch arrived at the maternity ward and began to ask questions. Two months later Shuai was arrested and imprisoned for 435 days in the Marion County prison on charges of murder and attempted feticide, and may be spending up to 45 years in prison.

It was ten days prior to Angel’s death that Shuai’s boyfriend, who had promised to start a family with her, left her. On December 23, 2010 she consumed rat poisoning in an attempt to commit suicide, but was quickly rushed to the Methodist hospital after confessing to friends what she had consumed.

Under Indiana law, it is considered murder to “knowingly or intentionally kill a fetus that has attained viability.” So how can Shuai be charged with feticide when her baby was born alive, and Angel was no longer a fetus under the murder and feticide law? Also, it’s still uncertain whether Angel’s death resulted from the rat poisoning.

Another potential cause of Angel’s death could have been indometacin, a drug used to prevent contractions, that can cause hemorrhages in babies. The forensic pathologist that conducted the autopsy on Angel testified that she assumed rat poison was the cause of death, without researching whether the medications or rat poisoning could be the cause of death.

Shuai did nothing to hurt or endanger the baby while she was living and there is not any solid proof that the rat poisoning was the cause of death, so how can she be held accountable for murder with the possibility of facing a 45-year prison sentence?

One important question is whether Shuai’s actions are criminal when considering the issue of intent. Shuai’s lawyer, Linda Pence, has been trying to drop the charges arguing that Shuai’s intentions were to kill herself — not her baby.

This case is the first of it’s kind in Indiana, and the story has gained attention from women’s rights groups, which believe this is an attack to women’s reproductive rights, and yet another example of gender discrimination.

Today, 38 out of 50 states have fetus homicide laws. These laws were created with the intention of protecting pregnant women and their unborn children from violent attacks. It is becoming more common for these laws to be turned around and used against women during their pregnancy, with the criminalization of pregnant women becoming more frequent.

Attempted suicide is not a crime in Indiana, so charging Shuai creates a double standard, and also the fear that her case be used as a precedent to justify criminalizing pregnant women in the future.