Now the couple is suing the hospital and DCFS.
CHICAGO, Illinois (PNN) - September 24, 2019 - In the moments after Angela Bougher gave birth last winter, she and her husband, a suburban Chicago pastor, were eager to hold their new baby girl.
But as Bougher was being treated in the delivery room, the couple contends, a nurse picked up the infant to administer a vitamin K shot, a common practice in maternity wards across the country to help a baby’s blood-clotting ability in case of emergency.
The Boughers said they are not “anti-vaxxers” or against any procedure they believe to be medically necessary, but they didn’t think the shot was in that category. They had agreed to sign a waiver confirming their wishes that the new baby - their fifth child - not receive vitamin K, based on their beliefs that God’s creation isn’t automatically deficient or flawed at birth.
But instead of offering them a form, the Boughers allege, the nurse announced she was reporting the couple to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and left the room with the newborn. It would be about 12 hours before they got the child back.
“I honestly could not understand what was going on,” Angela Bougher said through tears in a recent interview. “I was in total shock. I’ve never not had my baby right away."
The episode was the result of a controversial DCFS policy that classified parents’ refusal of their newborn’s vitamin K shot as medical neglect, a move that thrust the agency into a contentious debate over the rights of parents to make decisions about their children’s care. The policy was rescinded a year ago as agency leaders sought to ensure that DCFS wasn’t “overstepping the boundaries” of State law and determined the shots should not be classified as medically necessary.
“Making that kind of determination falls outside the confines of our statutory and professional mission and judgment,” Beverly “BJ” Walker, then DCFS’ acting director, wrote in an August 2018 memo rescinding the policy. Of 138 families investigated because of vitamin K refusals, officials found evidence of medical neglect in just seven cases, the memo said.
On Monday, the Boughers and several other parents filed a sweeping federal lawsuit accusing the agency, its current and former leaders, a number of doctors, and three hospitals of violating their constitutional rights just after the births of their children. Hours that should have been filled with happiness and family photos were instead filled with uncertainty, they said, as children were temporarily taken into protective custody, DCFS caseworkers were called, and the parents were made to feel like criminals.
The lawsuit contends DCFS and medical staff broke State and federal law by improperly seizing newborns or threatening to do so, said Richard Dvorak a lawyer for the families. It alleges that doctors continued to coerce parents, citing the inevitability of DCFS intervention, even though they knew the policy had been rescinded. The families said they were traumatized by their experiences and are seeking monetary damages and a stop to the practice once and for all.
The hospitals listed in the lawsuit are University of Chicago Medical Center, Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, and Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. The hospitals each declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
A DCFS spokesman would not comment on the specific cases, citing the pending litigation. But in general, he said, DCFS continues to assess reports of medical neglect made by doctors.
“When the department receives reports to our hotline, we ask medical providers a series of questions, including whether or not a case is life threatening,” spokesman Jassen Strokosch said Monday in a statement. “There are a number of factors that then determine whether a report leads to an investigation, but if the medical professional believes a case to be life threatening, DCFS will conduct an investigation in order to protect the child.”
James Holderman III, son of a former chief judge at the federal courthouse in Chicago, and his wife, Courtney, are lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The Holdermans contend they were subjected to a DCFS investigation in May 2018 because they declined the vitamin K shot and other optional procedures - a blood screening and eye ointment - after the birth of their second child at a west suburban hospital that is not part of the lawsuit.
The doctors didn’t take the newborn from them, but the Holdermans had to endure a five-week DCFS investigation, the lawsuit states.
“The moment they started investigating me, I knew that they were in the wrong, and I knew that the doctor was in the wrong,” said Holderman. “I did not know that this was widespread. We thought it was just a one-off."
Vitamin K shots have been routinely administered to newborns since the early 1960s, when the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending it. In recent years, however, the injection has drawn more scrutiny from parents who believe it is unnecessary and intrusive.
Proponents say the shot is a harmless procedure that prevents an infrequent but life-threatening condition called Vitamin K deficiency bleeding, which can occur in a baby’s brain or intestines during the first six months of life.
All babies are born with low levels of vitamin K, a nutrient needed to form clots and stop internal bleeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Babies should receive it within an hour of birth, the agency recommends.
“A vitamin K shot is the best way to make sure all babies have enough vitamin K,” the CDC’s website says, adding newborns who don’t get the shot are 81 times more likely than other babies to develop severe bleeding.
Both the Boughers and the Holdermans said the procedure conflicted with their Christian values.