US mum sues Etsy after child's death from amber teething necklace

A mum is suing Etsy after the death of her son.
A mum is suing Etsy after the death of her son. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

A US mother is taking online retailer Etsy to court after her son was allegedly strangled to death by an amber teething necklace purchased on the popular website by a friend.

Danielle Morin says Etsy shares the blame for the death of her son, Deacon, in October 2016, for selling an unsafe product. The 18-month-old was found unconscious at his childcare centre in Fontana, California, after the necklace reportedly tightened around his throat while he napped. He died five days later.

Ms Morin is now on a mission to draw attention to the dangers of using the necklaces, which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deemed ineffective in December 2018. 

"I get emotional when I talk about him because I want to make sure that I do his honour, talk about him the way that he deserves to be talked about," Ms Morin told ABC News"He was the sweetest little boy."

And while the single mum knows others blame her for Deacon's death, Ms Morin says she assumed the necklace was safe.

​"A lot of people want to blame me, like, 'Well, you put the product on your child," she said. "Well, it said that it was a baby necklace and I assumed that it was safe. I would have never knowingly put a dangerous product in the hands of my child."

In a statement provided to ABC News, Etsy said: "Deacon's death was a great tragedy and our hearts are with his mother and family. While we understand the desire to take action, Etsy is a platform and did not make or directly sell this item. We believe the allegations should be directed at the criminally-negligent day care providers or, if appropriate, the seller of the necklace." 

But the grieving mum believes it's simply not good enough.

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Ms Morin took to Facebook on Wednesday to express her dismay that the necklaces are still for sale on the platform. "Thousands are still available," she writes, adding: "I hope parents will reconsider putting these necklaces on their children. No mother deserves to bury a child."

Last year the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a renewed warning about the teething necklaces after reports their use had been linked to death and serious injuries to infants and children. Additionally, they noted that: "the safety and effectiveness of teething jewellery to treat teething pain and/or provide sensory stimulation have not been established".

"The risks of using teething jewellery include choking, strangulation, injury to the mouth, and infection," the FDA wrote. 

And their recommendations were clear:

  • Do not use necklaces, bracelets, or any other jewellery marketed for relieving teething pain. 
  • Be aware that the use of jewellery marketed for relieving teething pain or provide sensory stimulation to people with special needs can lead to serious injuries including strangulation or choking.
  • Talk to your doctor about alternative ways you can reduce teething pain such as: gently rubbing or massaging the gums with a clean finger, giving the teething child a teething ring made of firm rubber.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also updated their own guidelines following the FDA warning, adding: "The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend that infants wear any jewellery."

Here in Australia, Red Nose and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the ACCC) have both issued prior warnings about the necklaces. The ACCC tested various products with results indicating that some teething necklaces would fail the mandatory requirements for teethers. 

Red Nose also has a clear stance.

"Red Nose does not recommend placing anything around the neck of a sleeping baby as this could tighten during sleep and make breathing difficult and may even strangle baby. Furthermore, strings of beads could break and individual beads could end up in a baby's mouth, presenting a choking hazard."

While Amber is touted for its "healing properties," there is no scientific evidence that suggests they work to soothe teething pain. One study published in the journal Archives de Pédiatrie concluded that the beads are a "quack remedy with a real risk of strangulation or aspiration of small beads." And University of Auckland chemistry Professor Allan Blackman who assessed the necklaces, noted: "amber does contain succinic acid but … you would have to heat it to at least 200C to get it out of the amber and into your baby's blood stream which is not going to happen when baby's temperature is 36.9C.

"In layman's terms it's extraordinarily unlikely, it's snake oil".