I’ve seen a lot of attempts to whitewash the tragic death of a newborn during a birth that Vickie Sorensen attended at her free-standing birth center in Utah. The child was a twin that was born premature, two risk factors that should have excluded the patient from an out of hospital birth. The arguments the pro-vickie, pro-home birth camp put forward are pretty pathetic. It is the same garbage I hear every time a midwife is arrested. The first response is that no one is allowed to have an opinion on the validity of the charges until the verdict comes through (interestingly enough, every single case I’ve followed ended in a conviction).
Courts rightly presume innocence until guilt is proven, but regular people are under no such obligation when forming their opinions.
The first argument is “we don’t have all the facts yet”! But we do have the fact that the attorney general felt that there was enough evidence to base a manslaughter charge on. We have the fact that the Salt Lake Tribune felt comfortable enough with the findings of police and interviewing witnesses to run the story.
Another important thing to remember is that if ANY of these allegations are true then it was an appalling way to behave. I have a hard time believing that *none* of the allegations are true, and they do not all need to be true for this incident to serve as a wake up call to Utahans and our legislators.
There are other factors that lead me to believe that these charges are based on fact.
The sheer number of witnesses which would have to conspire against Vickie Sorensen (for no known reason) is pretty astronomical. I could accept one or perhaps maybe two witnesses testifying for some known reason against Vickie, but if you read the allegations it becomes clear that the minimum number of witnesses far exceeds reasonable doubt:
at least one doctor
at least one nurse
That is, at a minimum, seven people who witnessed the case at hand. I would imagine that if the testimonies were mixed there would be no case- the district attorney generally tries to avoid wasting time on cases that are not able to be prosecuted successfully. I find it much more likely that the accounts of 7 (or more) people corroborate the manslaughter charges.
Even if there was some attempt to persecute Vickie Sorensen for a reason not apparent at this time, there is the problem of the medical records. All the workers involved would have to falsify their records while the events were taking place or shortly after. I find this highly unlikely.
The other possibility I have been able to come up with is that police officers would have to tamper with the evidence, risking their career (again for no known reason). Since most of the evidence would probably be witness accounts and medical records it would be pretty difficult to fake, and would be found out rather quickly at trial. I find it unlikely.
The other major reason I find the allegations plausible is that this is exactly the same as every other home birth disaster. Anyone who follows them knows there is a theme. There are three phases to many home birth disasters:
First, the midwife makes a mistake.
Second, it becomes apparent that she doesn’t know what she is doing and real medical professionals are called.
Third, the midwife lies about her involvement in the delivery, or opts to lie to the hospital about her mistake.
Here is a collection of stories that fit the pattern:
Magnuss’s death (midwives told the mother breech birth was safe, the baby got stuck and brain damaged from oxygen deprivation, the midwife told EMTs they weren’t aware it was a breech birth until the delivery)
Shepphard’s injury (midwives told mother it was normal to labor for days, kept finding reasons not to show up to help the mother, baby was injured by days and days of labor and had to have extensive hospital stay to recover, midwives denied that any of this happened and threatened a lawsuit if the mother told anyone what happened)
A mother’s injuries (midwives told her to push and that she was crowning, when she was not fully dialated and had a blood clot coming out due to pelvic organ prolapse, midwife refused to give hospital any information about the birth, mother has injuries to her pelvic organs that are only fixable by surgery, baby was in distress but saved by c-section)
Sam’s death and mothers near death (midwife ignored signs of placental abruption, transported too late, baby had severe oxygen deprivation injuries and mother almost died from post partum bleeding. Midwife lied about her involvement to the board and blamed the physicians for her mistake. Sam died at 3 years old due to his brain injury.)
Mary Beth’s death (midwife didn’t show up for the birth on time, so EMTs were called. the midwife said everything was fine even though there were signs of respiratory distress. The baby died later that day, and the midwife falsified medical records to avoid arrest, as well as trying to convince Mary Beth’s mother that the death was not preventable)
Newborn baby birth injured, mother gets sepsis (breech baby had a brain bleed, mother had a fever after home birth delivery. Midwife told her not to go to the hospital, but things kept getting worse. The midwife asked the mother to sign a form that said the midwife did not attend the birth and begged her not to tell because she was concerned about her own license)
Aquila’s death (another placental abruption, mother begging for transfer that was denied, midwife put that patient refused transport on medical documents to try and avoid consequences, baby dies)
Lia’s death (midwife said twin birth after cesarean is safe, one twin is born not breathing and isn’t resuscitated, midwife denies that the baby could have been saved in hospital)
Gavin Michael’s death (a midwife lied to their patient about the safety of going past 43 weeks or pregnancy with a measurement of zero amniotic fluid, the baby died in utero from slow suffocation, the midwife lied about attending the birth in public and then in private blames the mother because they would have “hated” her if she had decided to be harsh about the emergency)
It is worth noting that in the last story, the midwife decided to ask other midwives what to do publicly on facebook instead of admitting that she really had no clue what she was doing. A parade of other clueless midwives, including Jan Tritten (editor of Midwifery Today, the trade magazine for direct entry midwives) all suggested that they either wait longer or take worthless remedies like stevia. None of them have taken any responsibility in the death despite being questioned about it relentlessly via facebook and email.
I decided to take 10 minutes to find these stories, there are many more out there. There are unknown stories, where the patient believed the midwive’s lies and decided not to seek disciplinary action as a result. This is normal for midwives.
As I have pointed out before, midwives have a handy guide to avoiding responsibility for deaths (called From Calling to Courtroom) which advocates Lying to hospitals, to patients, to police. I have also pointed out that the Utah Midwive’s Associations peer review guidelines encourage lying to conceal illegal behavior.
It is so predictable, it would be boring if it weren’t so tragic. The point of this is not to say that you can always believe a midwife is guitly, it is to demonstrate that this is by any standard a completely ordinary event. Ordinary events do not require extraordinary evidence in order to be believed by regular people. If I am wrong I will make as many retractions as needed, but I’m not holding my breath.