Audio recordings reveal that some doctors in Illinois used a loophole in the state’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to give newborns vitamin K shots against their parents’ wills, PJ Media reported.
As a result, the families were left confused and, in some cases, were subject to weeks of DCFS investigation thereafter.
Vitamin K shots have been routinely given at birth since the 1960s in an effort to prevent a rare but life-threatening blood-clotting disorder in babies.
But a growing number of parents have been refusing the shots.
In Illinois, several hospitals allegedly took temporary custody of newborns, claiming that their refusal of the shots constituted ‘medical neglect’ overriding signed refusal forms, administering the shots then returning the children to their families.
In the newly discovered audio, a hospital board member said: ‘You give the vitamin K and then do any of us really care what happens next?’
For the parents, what happened next, in some cases, was an investigation by DCFS that they claim was ‘traumatic,’ in a lawsuit filed last month.
Hospitals in Illinois used a state Department of Children and Family Services policy to temporarily seize custody of newborns and give them vitamin K shots against the parents’ wishes, triggering investigations into the families for medical neglect (file)
In 1961, the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending that all newborns receive vitamin K shots at birth.
Babies are born with very little of the vitamin naturally present in their bodies.
Vitamin K plays an important role in the coagulation, or clotting of blood. So, without it, infants can – although they rarely do – develop vitamin K deficiency bleeding disorder (VKDB).
‘We know that when you give an injection, no kid develops vitamin K deficiency bleeding disorder,’ Dr Jaspreet Loyal, an associate professor of pediatrics at Yale New Haven Hospital told DailyMail.com.
‘Versus, in Europe, where they give [vitamin K] orally, you still get sporadic cases.’
Although she’s very much in support of giving babies vitamin K shots, Dr Loyal, who has been studying parental attitudes toward the shots for years, said she doesn’t know if there’s a ‘right answer’ to the conflict between parents and doctors.
Angela and Brian Bougher told CBS Chicago that they had made the decision to refuse the vitamin K shot, as well as erythromycin eye ointment, for their daughter Glori when she was born.
Hospitals document this decision using an informed-consent refusal form, but it isn’t entirely clear whether or not the Boughers had signed such a form.
Shortly after Glori’s birth, nurses at Silver Cross Hospital whisked the baby away, and an Illinois DCFS case worker came to Angela’s room. .
Some experts have contended that vitamin K shot refusal is a predictor of parents’ overall posture toward medical care and signals a risk of neglect.
At the time of Glori’s birth, CBS Chicago reported that the state DCFS’s policy adopted this belief and considered such a refusal a possible reason to investigate for ‘medical neglect.’
This allowed the hospital to take temporary custody of the children, deliver the shots and return them to their parents.
From 2015 to last year, the state’s health department required vitamin K refusals to be reported, and said these ‘shall be taken as reports of medical neglect.’
The audio recordings of an April 2018 meeting of the Perinatal Advisory Committee of the Illinois Department of Health reveals that the board debated the language of these clauses and decided it was ‘okay’ to seize custody for a matter of minutes to administer the shot, then let the chips fall where they may for the families.
PJ Media was not able to identify the specific voices on the recording, but one woman said: ‘You can take… Protective custody is just the right to do what you think is right for the baby. And, DCFS, if they say, “yes, that we agree with you, cause this is our rule.” You give the vitamin K and then do any of us really care what happens next?’
Dr Loyal doesn’t have knowledge of policies at the hospitals in question in Illinois, but says Yale cannot fall back on this sort of logic.
‘Here at Yale, we have parents sign a refusal form and in that form we explicitly lay out that this is why we give the injections and the risks of refusing it, and the parents sign,’ she says.
‘But this document is not something that can be used in a court of law that can extricate us if something happens to a kid.’
Glori was away from the Boughers for 12 hours, they claim. But the real trouble came weeks later when police came to their house with no warning, telling her they’d been sent by DCFS to check on their children.
After weeks of investigation into the family’s potential ‘neglect’ DCFS ultimately decided they were fit parents.
But the damage was done, and the Boughers say they lived in fear their kids would be taken away.
In August 2018, the DCFS struck the policy requiring that vitamin K shot refusals be reported.
‘We are simply trying to make sure that we are not overstepping the boundaries established for us under state law and promulgated in state rules,’ wrote acting DCFS director BJ Walker.
‘This procedure inappropriately identifies what can and should be considered “medically necessary.” Making that kind of determination falls outside the confines of our statutory and professional mission and judgement.’
In the lawsuit filed on behalf of several families – including the Boughers – who refused the shots, the overriding of their wishes, temporary custody taken by the hospital and, in some cases, subsequent DCFS investigations were called ‘traumatic consequences to families…[including] irreparable harm to the sanctity of family birth.’
The suit alleges that the prior DCFS policy allowed ‘doctors and hospital staff, acting under color of state law, to coerce, threaten and intimidate parents with DCFS investigations iand the potential loss of custody over their children without any legal basis, following the parents’ refusal to consent to unnecessary medical procedures being administered to their perfectly healthy newborns.
The allegations come during an age of growing distrust of medicine among some populations, as well as anti-vaccine sentiments blamed for for the outbreak of measles in the US (although, notably, vitamin K given to newborns is an injections but is not a vaccine).
‘I don’t think the families or the hospital are bad actors,’ said Dr Loyal.
‘The hospital [staff] advocates for children and they’re trying to do the right thin. And the parents are looking at it as advocating for their child, and needing to do the right thing for them.’
She says that the vitamin K-refusing parents she’s encountered in her practice are often some of the most proactive about ensuring they are informed and have healthy pregnancies.
‘They’ve gone all out. They’re well-intentioned parents, but their viewpoint is different from ours,’ Dr Loyal says.
‘Does that make them bad people? That’s a difficult question to answer. [Each party is] looking at this from their own vantage point and digging their heels in, but we need for both of these groups to come forward and hear the other person out.
‘If we make it so black and white, parents aren’t going to want to talk to us.’