Church midwife says premature baby death was ‘gods will’
A church midwife who attended the home birth of David Hickman, who was born two months early and lived only nine hours, said she does not believe the premature baby should have been taken to the hospital.
In unusually candid testimony, Lavona Keith said “it wasn’t God’s will for David to live.”
Keith testified for the defense Friday at the trial of Dale and Shannon Hickman. The Oregon City couple are accused of second-degree manslaughter for failing to seek medical care for David, who died in 2009.
The medical examiner determined the infant died from underdeveloped lungs and staph pneumonia. Medical experts previously called by the prosecution disputed whether a staph infection played a role in the baby’s death, but a second defense witness, Dr. Stanley Berry disagreed. He said David died of a staph-related blood infection that was not obvious to those who attended the home birth.
The Hickmans and Keith are members of the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City church that preaches faith healing and rejects doctors and medical care.
Keith, who is Shannon Hickman’s aunt and one of three church midwives who attended the birth, said David “pinked right up and was vibrant and healthy.” She said she had no concerns about the baby’s well-being when she left him two or three hours after the birth.
Under questioning by prosecutor John Wentworth, Keith said it is for God to decide whether a baby lives or dies.
“Is there anything a doctor can do to change that?” Wentworth asked.
“I don’t think so,” Keith said.
The central theme of the prosecution’s case is that the Hickmans’ actions — before and after David’s birth — led to his death, including their decision not to seek prenatal care and failure to call 9-1-1 when the child’s condition deteriorated and he stopped breathing.
Instead the Hickmans relied on church midwives.
“What would you do if a baby was struggling to breathe?” Wentworth asked.
“I would anoint” the child with oil but would not call a doctor, Keith said. “I believe in trusting in God.”
What would God do, Wentworth asked.
“He would heal my baby,” Keith said.
“What lesson was learned from David’s death?” Wentworth asked.
“I don’t know,” Keith replied.
Berry said medical intervention wouldn’t have mattered. David died in a matter of minutes once the blood infection struck, and nothing could have been done to save the child. The baby “was doing fine until (he) fell off a cliff,” said Berry, an obstetrician and fetal medicine specialist at William Beaumont Hospital in Detroit.
Prosecutors said Berry’s conclusions are not supported by laboratory tests and are more theory than science.
The state medical examiner who performed an autopsy found large concentrations of bacteria and suspected Group B streptococcus, which causes blood and lung infections that can quickly kill. Attempts to culture the bacteria and specifically identify the strain were unsuccessful.
Based on David’s initial healthy appearance then rapid decline, Berry said Group B strep was the obvious culprit.