Ignore the dead babies, or else.


Homebirth midwives abhor being held accountable for letting babies die preventable deaths. When they’ve exhausted their typical gambits: the “baby would have died anyway” gambit, the “some babies just die” gambit, and the “mother is responsible for the baby’s death” gambit, they move on to what they consider the ultimate threat.

That would be the “ignore the dead babies, or other babies will die” gambit.

It’s what Mark Twiggs, lawyer for the indefensible Lisa Barrett, is employing in a last desperate attempt to sway the coroner’s court as well as the court of public opinion.

According to today’s piece on an Australian TV channel:

Greater regulation of home births would force women determined to avoid a hospital birth to go “underground”, increasing the risks for mother and child, an inquest has heard…

In final submissions on Friday, counsel for Ms Barrett, Mark Twiggs said mothers who chose to have a home birth should not be considered uneducated or naive.

He said such women had considered the risks and were determined to avoid delivering in hospital.

“They have studied and made a choice, and they should always have that free choice,” he said.

Mr Twiggs said more regulation surrounding home births would take away that choice.

“They need help, but heavy regulation is going to push these people underground,” he said.

In other words, Twiggs warns that if the Coroner’s Court doesn’t let Lisa Barrett get away with murder, other midwives might refuse to participate in future avoidable homebirth deaths and then what would happen? Homebirth advocates might resort to homebirths without a midwife and OTHER BABIES COULD DIE!!! Simply put, if the Coroner’s Court doesn’t allow Lisa Barrett to kill babies, mothers might do it themselves.

This threat (for it is a blatant threat) is absurd on a variety of levels. First, it is a false empirical claim; indeed, it is really two empirical claims, neither one of which is proven.

The first empirical claim is that punishing homebirth midwives for preventable neonatal deaths will have no deterrent effect because those same women would had homebirths anyway and their babies would have died anyway. That could be true, but there’s no evidence that it is true. Moreover, it conveniently ignores the enabling role played by the midwife herself. When a midwife like Lisa Barrett ensures the mother that homebirth in her situation is safe, she encourages that homebirth. It is equally if not more likely that a homebirth midwife, by telling a mother that the risk of the baby’s death is so great that she won’t get involved, will lead the mother to conclude that hospital birth is the safest option for her baby.

The second empirical claim is implied: homebirth midwives are preventing more deaths than they cause. Sure these babies died at Lisa Barrett’s hands, but she must have saved some babies who would have died otherwise. In other words, yes, homebirth midwives kill babies, but they save even more babies. There’s no evidence that is true, either. Where’s the data that shows that neonatal deaths at homebirth have dropped since allowing midwives to attend homebirth? There isn’t any and there isn’t likely to be any. That’s because babies die at home for lack of emergency C-section facilities and for lack of expert neonatal resuscitation. Parents cannot provide these, but homebirth midwives can’t provide them, either. Homebirth midwives could theoretically be saving lives, but there’s certainly no evidence that they do, and certainly no evidence that they save more lives than they lose.

Leaving aside the fact that it is based on unproven claims and assumptions, the threat is remarkably cold blooded. It’s essentially a hostage claim: yes, we killed these babies, but you shouldn’t punish us because if we’re not allowed to let hostages die, then less professional hostage takers (parents) will take over and even more hostages will die.

Twiggs is accurately representing Barrett in this threat. She expresses no remorse for the preventable deaths of these babies. She refuses to take any responsibility for these deaths. Indeed, by all appearances, she doesn’t especially care that they are dead. But she knows that the judges care. So she threatens that if she is not allowed to get off for letting these babies die, even more babies will die. But this is not a seminar in utilitarian theory. We don’t accept the death a few babies just to prevent the entirely theoretical deaths of a few more.

Tate Spencer-Koch and Jahli Jean Hobbs died utterly senseless, totally preventable deaths because Lisa Barrett didn’t know what she was doing and didn’t care, either. She is responsible for those deaths and she should be held accountable for those deaths. No less an authority than the Australian Supreme Court deemed that Barrett could not avoid being investigated by insisting that the babies were dead when they were actually alive.

The coroner’s inquest that Barrett feared has demonstrated that she, in her hubris and ignorance, is responsible for those deaths. The Coroner’s Court should hold Barret accountable for these deaths and should not be swayed by her last, desperate gambit, the claim she should be allowed to let babies die or else mothers will do it themselves.