Midwife gets jail in baby's death

  1. there are so many things in this story that bother me.....sorry if this has already been posted. (from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

    Unlicensed woman given 6-month term as part of sentence

    Waukesha - An unlicensed midwife was sentenced Friday to three years of probation that includes six months in jail on two criminal counts for overstepping the law when she presided over a home birth in rural Waukesha County last year that culminated with the death of the newborn.

    Helen E. Dentice, a 52-year-old grandmother who participated in more than 100 home births before the ill-fated endeavor, was sentenced by a judge who faulted her for agreeing to take on the effort despite knowing it was complicated and risky because of the mother's troubles during previous births.

    JS Online:
    •  
  2. 15 Comments

  3. by   Jolie
    There are so many disturbing facets to this case, and so much missing information.

    Is the practice of lay-midwifery legal in WI? (I'm guessing not.)

    Did Dentice mis-represent herself and her abilities to the couple? Why did she not heed their pleas for a hospital transfer? Does that not constitute battery?

    As I read it, she was sentenced for practicing without a license, not for any charge directly related to the death of the infant.

    I am in support of parents choosing the practitioner and setting in which they give birth, but stories like this always leave me enraged. Practitioners who go so far outside the mainstream of safe and accepted practice give all "alternative" birth attendants a bad name. I once worked in NC where lay midwifery was illegal, and we had more than a few "bad" patients dropped on our doorstep with the midwife speeding away. Such little regard for their patients and unborn babies, and only concerned with protecting their own hides. That in and of itself ought to be illegal.
    Last edit by Jolie on Dec 17, '06 : Reason: spelling
  4. by   TrudyRN
    As reprehensible as the midwife's actions were, why, why, why did the couple dare to try a home birth in the first place? After 3 C Sections???

    Also, they, at any time, were free to pick up a phone and call 911 or just get in their car and get to the hospital, prior to this terrible outcome.

    And what is up with them agreeing to not name the MW if something went wrong and to relinquish the videotape in the event of a bad outcome?

    I'm sure they were relying on her skill and expertise but it seems like they did not do their homework, in that they did not pick at least a licensed nurse-midwife.

    I do still feel terrible for them and do still fault the midwife, more than the couple, who relied on her.
  5. by   LizzyL&DRN
    A home birth, VBAC after 3 sections!!!!!! I agree the couple didn't do their homework, but from the article I think that midwife got what she deserved. I can't imagine a midwife doing something so irresponsible. What a horrible sad story.
  6. by   HeartsOpenWide
    I am all for VBAC, but not at home after three c-sections. The parents should be held accountable too.
  7. by   medsurgnurse
    The parents bear responsibility in this. They should be charged with child endangerment for even considering having homebirth attended by an unlicensed person.
  8. by   rn/writer
    This case is somewhat local for me and I work postpartum, so I have been following the story with more than a casual interest.

    Seems like that parents wanted the VBAC so much that they were willing to overlook some serious red flags.

    For instance, any practitioner who says they will hightail it out of a troubled scenario and wants no mention made of their name is saying that they have something to hide and do not intend to accept responsibility for their actions.

    I remember when this case broke a year ago being stunned at the many irregularites and questionable circumstances in the first article I read about it.

    JS Online:

    The older article quotes Dentice as saying that she has been performing "midwife services" for more than 22 years. In the more recent account (linked in the OP's post), she claims to have participated in more than 100 home births. That doesn't add up to even one a month and could be as little as half of that. Not an impressive amount of experience for someone stepping into a situation where people with much greater skill refused to tread.

    I am also disturbed by the thought of trying a home delivery after 3 c-sections. A primary VBAC is usually entered into as a trial of labor with no guarantees that an additional section will not be needed. The only way to accurately monitor a high risk mom and baby is in a setting where, a) there is equipment available to continuously evaluate the status of the child and the progress of the descent, and, b) there are facilities and staff people immediately available to switch to a surgical intervention should this become necessary.

    Other midwives turned this couple down for home birth because they felt it was too risky. For a patient with a history of THREE previous sections, the OBs I know would look long and hard at the conditions of those deliveries and be very cautious about considering a VBAC, even in a hospital. And with good reason.

    The problem described in the article is shoulder dystocia, a presentation in which the baby becomes "stuck" in the birth canal. This is a true obstetrical emergency which requires immediate action. There are a number of "maneuvers" which involve changing the mother's position to expand pelvic diameter or external interventions which manipulate the baby's orientation in the hope of compressing shoulder diameter. The most drastic of these involves pushing the baby back up into the vagina and performing a crash c-section.

    During this emergent kind of delivery, the baby is at obvious risk for clavicle fracture, Erb's palsy (temporary or permanent paralysis of the arm and shoulder), hypoxic brain injury, and, as is all too apparent, death.

    The mother, especially one with three previous sections, is at risk for uterine rupture and hemorrhage.

    Shoulder dystocia is not entirely predictable, HOWEVER, the patient's previous history may have suggested it was a possibility. If the reason for intervention with the c-section babies was "failure to progress" or "failure to descend," then it's well within the realm of possibility that a vag delivery with any of them might have led to a similar predicament.

    Other unsettling information is Dentice's refusal to arrange transport when the parents requested it. Although the mother (in another article) said that Dentice didn't forbid her to go to the hospital, she certainly strongly encouraged the couple to continue with the home birth and assured them that the delivery was going well. I'm guessing her reluctance to call for help was influenced by her "consciousness of guilt," ie. an awareness that such a call could expose her activities and place her in legal hot water. Putting her own self-interests ahead of the needs of the delivering child caused her to make the decisions that led to a tragic outcome.

    As I understand it, if Dentice had been a licensed practitioner, she could have been charged with malpractice and possibly negligence. As an unlicensed person, she could have been charged with manslaughter, but the circumstances probably would not have met the legal standards required to get a conviction. At one point she was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment, but it appears that was dropped as part of the plea agreement. By agreeing to plead guilty to practicing medicine and delivering a prescription drug without a license Dentice spared everyone an emotionally wrenching and possibly lengthy trial. It also seems, from other local news accounts, that she is extremely remorseful and has no intention of appealing the six-month sentence. (She could have gotten almost seven years.)

    I am familiar with the judge in the case. She is known for being tough but fair, and I believe she demonstrated those attributes in this case. No one, not even the parents, believes that Dentice is a bad person or that she intentionally harmed anyone. The concensus is that she is an otherwise law-abiding person who willfully chose to greatly exceed both her capabilities and the scope of her training by participating in a high risk home birth that she was in no way equipped to handle. Making one bad decision after another, she proceeded until the tragic outcome was inevitable.

    That the parents bear a responsibility is also clear. They didn't research Ms. Dentice well enough. Nor did they heed the advice of the practitioners who assessed home delivery as too dangerous given the mother's history. They will have to live with the loss of their daughter for the rest of their lives.

    But in accepting the role of a "practitioner," Ms. Dentice assumed a greater responsibility by virtue of putting herself in the role of caregiver and advisor.

    The one good thing to come out of all of this is increased support for legislation (already in the works prior to this sad event) that will set legal guidelines for midwives in the state of Wisconsin.

    A new law expected to be signed today [April of 2005] would license Wisconsin midwives who are nationally accredited.
    The law will spell out medications that midwives can dispense and prohibit non-licensed midwives from referring to themselves as midwives.
    The law will require licensed midwives to provide clients with detailed information about their skills, experience, education and training, as well as their current malpractice insurance status.
    JS Online:

    The new law prohibits people who are not licensed midwives from referring to themselves as midwives. Licenses will be granted to those with a certified professional midwife credential from the North American Registry of Midwives or a certified nurse-midwife credential from the American College of Nurse Midwives.
    Members of both of these groups support the legislation.

    Such a sad event for all concerned. The parents have lost a child. Ms. Dentice has lost her reputation and her "practice." She will spend time in jail and be closely supervised during three years of probation. Nobody won.

    Except, perhaps, the mothers and babies who will be protected by the new legislation.
    Last edit by rn/writer on Dec 19, '06
  9. by   imenid37
    Quote from TrudyRN
    As reprehensible as the midwife's actions were, why, why, why did the couple dare to try a home birth in the first place? After 3 C Sections???
    I do still feel terrible for them and do still fault the midwife, more than the couple, who relied on her.
    I totally agree w/ you. The parents went against medical advice and common sense. They were willing to sacrifice the health and safety of their baby for a "birth experience." I feel most sorry for this child who was not put first, as he should have been, and who had no voice in this decision. In some cases,home birth is pretty safe. This mom practically had a red light on her head saying "NO HOME BIRTH FOR ME." after 3 C.sections. The midwife and the parents are just profoundly stupid. I am sorry. I don't mean to be so nasty in my opinion, but come on. This is craziness.
  10. by   traumaRUs
    It sure seems like there were few winners in this case. I guess my thoughts on this are that in this day and age, since this mom had already had medical/surgical intervention in the previous pregnancies, and since they only contracted with the lay midwife in the last month prior to delivery, that they DID know this was dangerous.
  11. by   babyktchr
    Quote from HeartsOpenWide
    I am all for VBAC, but not at home after three c-sections. The parents should be held accountable too.
    :yeahthat:
  12. by   33-weeker
    Quote from medsurgnurse
    The parents bear responsibility in this. They should be charged with child endangerment for even considering having homebirth attended by an unlicensed person.
    Hold on... unlicensed does not mean unqualified. I had 'documented' but not 'licensed' midwives for both my births. They were wonderfull and I would recommend them to anyone. (I've been a perinatal nurse for 15+ years, so my assessment of their skills does carry some weight.)

    There are good, bad, and mediocre individuals in ANY profession... including OBs.
  13. by   medsurgnurse
    [quote=33-weeker;2005601]Hold on... unlicensed does not mean unqualified. I had 'documented' but not 'licensed' midwives for both my births. They were wonderfull and I would recommend them to anyone. (I've been a perinatal nurse for 15+ years, so my assessment of their skills does carry some weight.)

    There are good, bad, and mediocre individuals in ANY profession... including OBs.[/quote

    I stand by what I said. And even if this "midwife" was the most qualified in the world, the parents should never have risked the life of their infant just to have a home birth. And the midwife should have known better. Another poster gave all the details about the case; several other midwives turned down this couple because of risk. So let me rephrase my original statement 'the parents should never have chosen a home birth with an unprofessional, unqualified midwife.
  14. by   medsurgnurse
    read rn/writer's post.

close