Sunday, July 12, 2009
Probe Into Infant Boy's Death Continues
By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Journal Staff Writer
Church members who gathered at an Albuquerque hotel last month shared a rigorous belief in "divine healing" and a reliance on home birthing, a former pastor in The Church of God said.
Medical and law enforcement personnel are continuing to examine details surrounding the death of an infant boy born during a church conference at the hotel.
Members of The Church of God prayed and tried cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the boy but did not contact emergency personnel until about three hours after the birth of the boy and his twin brother, police said.
The boys' parents, Samuel and Tammy Kaufman, told police that the infant's death was "God's will" and refused medical treatment for the surviving boy or his mother.
Danny Page, a member of the The Church of God from 1997 to 2004, said the church was unbending in avoiding medical care and hospital birthing.
"They are staunchly against going to doctors," said Page, who was previously a pastor for The Church of God in North Carolina. "I didn't take so much as an aspirin for years. I did not go to a doctor for anything."
The church's insistence on home births took hold several years ago under the church's current leadership, said Page, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn.
"It stemmed from the idea that if we don't go to doctors, then why do we go to doctors to have our children?" he said.
The Office of the Medical Investigator on Friday had not ruled on the manner or cause of the infant's death. OMI spokeswoman Amy Boule said an autopsy proved inconclusive and additional testing is needed.
Albuquerque police and a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office said any decisions about criminal charges depend on the results of the OMI reports.
The Church of God, based in Cleveland, Tenn., is led by Stephen E. Smith, who is called "general overseer" or chief bishop of the church. Smith and his wife, Vicki Smith have not responded to requests for interviews. Both were in Albuquerque for the conference, a police report said.
The church calls itself "The Church of God" to distinguish itself from two other related churches, both of which are also based in Cleveland, Tenn.
The Church of God formed in 1993 when its members broke away from the Church of God of Prophesy, itself a 1923 breakaway from an older and larger church called Church of God.
The Rev. Ronald Mizell, pastor of the Church of God in Albuquerque, said that his church is not affiliated with Smith's church and that he is not aware of any churches in Albuquerque that are.
Page said he left The Church of God in 2004 after he became frustrated with the demands and strict rules of its leaders.
"It was very, very cultish," said Page, who now is pastor of a nondenominational church in Nashville. "They constantly pound home this message that they are the only church recognized by God."
Page said he and his wife delivered three of their six children at home. The couple's third child was delivered by Theresa Letcher, a church member and midwife from Fancy Farm, Ky.
An Albuquerque police report indicates that Letcher was staying at the Sandia Courtyard the morning that Tammy Kaufman gave birth.
Letcher said the Kaufmans have asked her not to discuss the incident.
"I did speak with the parents of the babies, and they have requested that everybody just leave them alone for a little while," Letcher said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Phone messages left at the Kaufmans' home in Andrews, Texas, were not returned.
Albuquerque police reports provide some details about the boy's death:
• The Kaufmans called police about 8:45 a.m. June 26 and reported that Tammy Kaufman, 33, had given birth to twins earlier that morning in her room at Sandia Courtyard Hotel and Convention Center in Albuquerque. One of the twins had died.
• When police arrived at the couple's hotel room, Samuel Kaufman, 42, was holding his deceased son. The couple had planned to give birth at home, but Tammy Kaufman unexpectedly went into labor at the hotel.
• Samuel Kaufman told police the first child born had opened his eyes and appeared to be breathing at birth. But later, the boy "was reported to be in distress and was struggling to breathe," Albuquerque police Detective C. Romero wrote in a search warrant. "Church members went to (the Kaufman's room) and started to pray."
• Between 6:40 a.m. and 7 a.m., church members noticed the boy was not breathing. One man also tried to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The combination of religion and medicine often present legal and ethical dilemmas, particularly when children are involved, ethicists at the University of New Mexico said.
"It's no crime to deliver a baby in a hotel room," said Dr. David Bennahum, a UNM physician and ethics professor.
But rescue personnel should be called if a child is in distress.
"If the baby is gasping for breath, you should call a doctor," Bennahum said.