Family Says Church Allowed Woman To Die Following Childbirth

KTUL News Channel 8, Oklahoma/November 1, 2005
By Teri Bowers

Cushing -- There is a delicate balance between religion and the law. NewsChannel 8's Teri Bowers has the story of Kathy Capdeville, a life lost in that balance. She was only 26 years old when she died giving birth. Her family believes her life could have been saved. But, they claim Kathy's church let her die in the name of faith.

Kathy Capdeville's family describes her as a devoted daughter, sister and mother to her four children. She was due to have her fifth baby this past August.

"I told her, promise to call me as soon as you go into labor because I'm three hours away," says Kathy's sister Jeanne Shadaram. "And, she promised she would. And that's the last time I talked to her."

Kathy's family was nervous because she planned to have the baby at home, attended to only by church midwives. Kathy had followed her husband into the Church of the Firstborn in Cushing. They shun doctors and rely on prayer for healing.

"We worried about this ever since she married into the faith," said Kathy's father, David Griffin. "And, it happened."

Kathy's family says it was by chance they learned she'd gone into labor. They called and were told Kathy was resting after delivering a healthy baby girl. But, within hours, the news turned tragic.

"From what we've been told, at about 5:20 she had Kathryn, the baby," Shadaram says. "And she never passed the placenta. She never passed the afterbirth. And, she bled for six hours, she lay in bed bleeding before she passed away."

"There's no reason for my daughter to have died like that," adds Griffin.

Kathy's family says she had sought medical care before and had promised she would get help if anything went wrong. But, church members told them Kathy's faith was strong.

"What they say just doesn't make sense to us, that she would willingly lay down and die knowing she had five children," Shadaram says.

And they don't believe religion should protect the midwives and other members of the church who were in the house during Kathy's final hours.

"Somebody in that house should have stepped up and did the right thing, regardless of religion," says Shadaram. "If they'd called 911, an ambulance could have come, if she was alert and awake like they say she was, Kathy could have signed a refusal to go to the hospital and it would have been done."

It is not done. Cushing police investigated Kathy's death. It is now up to the Payne County District Attorney to decide if charges are warranted against anyone who was in the home.

"It's extremely difficult," says Cushing Deputy Chief Terry Brannon. "I think any time you begin to intertwine religion in terms of potential criminal negligence, you get into an area that is awfully difficult."

The law is more clear when a child's life is at stake. The Oklahoma Legislature removed religious belief as a defense in the death of a child in 1983. Kathy's family wants lawmakers to act again to more strongly regulate midwives. They they may never get answers to the questions that haunt them about her death -- was she in pain? Did she ask for help? Or did she lose consciousness and peacefully drift away?

"I have to hope she was okay and that she went easy," Shadaram says. "And, God help them if she was in pain and they witnessed that. Then they'll have that nightmare just like I do."

Now, Kathy's family believes the only way they'll find any peace is to make others aware.

"I just miss her so much," says Shadaram. "But I know I have to tell people. This is my outlet, this is how I deal with what's happened, I do research and try to change what's going on."

Kathy's family hopes they can bring change to spare others their grief and their loss.

We tried to contact members of the church, including Kathy's husband, both in person and by phone. They declined to comment. Kathy Capdeville did not have a living will or anything similar in writing clearly expressing her religious wishes. So, her family says it comes down to their word against the church members whether she would have wanted medical attention.

There is no word yet on when the Payne County district attorney will decide for or against charges. There was another death from the very same church in 1987, when a three-month-old girl died of pneumonia. Her parents served a two-year sentence for failing to seek medical help.

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