Deputies examine infant's death

Parents of newborn who died of infection didn't seek treatment due to religious beliefs

Indy Star/August 24, 2003
By Cathy Kightlinger

Sheriff's deputies continue to investigate the death of a Johnson County infant from an infection after her parents did not seek medical treatment because of their religious beliefs.

Now, the life of the baby's mother could be in danger if she also is suffering from sepsis, an infection that an autopsy determined killed 2-day-old Rhianna Rose Schmidt, said David Lutz, Johnson County deputy coroner.

The infection is one newborns can acquire in the first 24 hours after delivery, and one that can be successfully treated with antibiotics, Lutz said.

But Maleta K. and Dewayne Schmidt's religious beliefs don't include seeking medical treatment, authorities said.

The couple, members of the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, trust in God to cure illness, said Tom Nation, an elder at the Morgantown-area Protestant church attended by the couple.

"We have a love for our children. Really, I think it's greater than people that go to doctors," Nation said. "Our bond is closer."

Reached at his home, Dewayne Schmidt said his family was mourning its loss and had no further comment.

State law allows parents to use their religious beliefs as a defense against prosecution for refusing medical treatment for their children, said Lt. Mike McElwain, of the Johnson County Sheriff's Department.

But investigators, he said, are doing more research to ensure there is no evidence of intent to harm the child.

"I don't believe these people would intentionally hurt their child at all," McElwain said. "There is a fine line with religious freedom and what you can do with the child (regarding) medical care, and that's a line we tread on lightly in this country, and I think rightfully so."

Johnson County Prosecutor Lance Hamner could not be reached Saturday for comment.

After the infant's death, Johnson County Child Protection Services spoke with the Schmidts about their older child, and "everything is fine," McElwain said.

The child remains in the Schmidts' custody, he said.

Rhianna Rose Schmidt was born without medical treatment on the morning of Aug. 17 at her parents' Johnson County home in the 1500 block of West Ind. 44.

A relative from Oklahoma acted as a midwife during delivery, Lutz said.

The baby was born breach, and her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and arm, Lutz said family members told him.

"They had difficulty getting the baby started breathing when it was first born," Lutz said. "They gave it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. (She) started breathing on (her) own."

Shortly afterward, the newborn continued to have difficulty breathing, and the family contacted elders of their church to come to their home and pray, Lutz said. But the baby died about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Lutz said that when he arrived, he found the mother in bed holding the newborn and several members of the church in the home.

"There are no legal documents at all on the baby until the death," Lutz said. "There was no prenatal care."

About 150 to 175 attend the church, and some of them do use traditional medical care, Nation said.

"That's between them and God," he said. "We ought not to judge. We can't cast anybody out of the church."

Nation is the father of four, who range in age from 33 to 47.

All were raised, he said, without the help of doctors or hospitals.

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