Vickie Sorensen, a 57 year old Utah midwife, was sentenced on Tuesday to six months in jail for the death of a twin newborn delivered prematurely in 2012. She will not be able to continuing practicing as a midwife, and is also subject to 36 months of probation in the state of Utah. The charges include a second degree felony manslaughter and two counts of reckless endangerment, which are misdemeanors.
The child was born without the ability to breath, and prosecutors allege Sorensen used outdated techniques and equipment that was far too large to try to help the baby rather than send the family to the hospital right away for proper care. If the child had been born in a hospital, he would have lived, according to a medical doctor who testified in the case.
Sorensen claims at first she didn’t believe the woman was actually in labor, but later confirmed she was. She had considered taking the mother to the hospital, and went outside to clear snow from her vehicle at one point. However, when she came back inside, the woman was too far along in her delivery for Sorensen to make the trip. So, the midwife returned to her duties, ensuring the parents she could deliver their babies unharmed.
Sorensen testified that she had delivered thousands of babies, safe and sound, including multiples, over the years. Forty people came to the courtroom to support her. Home births are riskier than those performed in hospitals, however, where mothers and their infants can receive state-of-the-art care, particularly if something is to go wrong. Often, with critical issues, such as a child born without the ability to birth, time is of the essence, and up-to-date procedures need to be readily available. Parents who opt to stay home are subjecting themselves to the possibility of losing critical time if something goes wrong. Breech babies, those born prematurely, or multiples are at increased risk, in general, which only elevates outside of a hospital setting.
In Utah, there is a program available to license midwives. However, this currently isn’t required. Sorenson was unlicensed. It is rare for criminal charges to be pursued in unlicensed individuals, and the state’s decision to convict Sorenson for the equivalent to medical malpractice is not a common one. Typically, when cases are filed against midwives, they end in plea deals and never make it to trial. If charges are pursued, they are for manslaughter, because licensing is not in place.
Sorenson’s conviction will hopefully set an example as more and more parents are opting for in-home births – the nationwide rate jumping 29 percent over five years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with Utah’s rate doubling between 1990 and 2012 – and make more states move to license midwives.