Lawsuit Claims Hospitals Were Using ‘Loophole’ To Give Newborns Shots After Parents Refused

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Infant in hospital
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Stories started trickling out of Illinois in late September from parents who had refused to allow their babies to receive vitamin K shots shortly after their births. In one case, two parents claimed their baby had been taken from them in the hospital for over 12 hours after they refused the shot. And in several others, parents said they too were intimidated or maligned by hospital staff who temporarily put the babies in protective custody to inject them with the vitamin K shots. A lawsuit is now underway against the hospitals, and a leaked transcript has some suggesting that medical staff overstepped their bounds. 

  • Vitamin K shots have been administered in US hospitals since 1961 as a preventative measure against a life-threatening bleeding disorder.

    The shot helps promote blood clotting in infants, who are born with naturally low levels of vitamin K, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    "Without enough vitamin K, babies cannot make the substances used to form clots, called ‘clotting factors,’" the CDC website explained. "When bleeding happens because of low levels of vitamin K, this is called 'vitamin K deficiency bleeding' or VKDB. VKDB is a serious and potentially life-threatening cause of bleeding in infants up to 6 months of age."

    To head this off, hospitals now administer the shot shortly after birth. Although parents have questioned why they can't wait and administer the vaccine only if their baby truly needs it, medical experts say that waiting may be too late.  

    "Babies can bleed into their intestines or brain where parents can’t see the bleeding to know that something is wrong," the CDC reported, adding that the consequences could be fatal.

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  • The Illinois lawsuit comes after several parents say they refused the shot and their hospital circumvented their wishes unlawfully.

    The three hospitals named in the lawsuit are University of Chicago Medical Center, Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, and Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, according to the Chicago Tribune. The parents say the facilities accused them of "medical neglect," overrode their signed refusal forms, and administered the shots to the infants before returning them to their parents. Doctors allegedly did so by temporarily taking protective custody of the babies through a medical loophole.

    Audio from an April 2018 conversation among hospital board members has surfaced, PJ Media reported, as the lawsuit and a subsequent investigation have begun. 

    In it, a board member can be heard saying: 

    "You can take … Protective custody is just the right to do what you think is right for the baby. And, DCFS, if they say, 'Yes, that we agree with you, cause this is our rule.' You give the vitamin K and then do any of us really care what happens next?"

  • Apparently, what "happened next," according to several parents, were follow-up home visits from the Department of Children and Family Services.

    In the class-action lawsuit, filed in October, plaintiffs claim that the hospitals and agencies "used the power given to them as State officials and/or employees and through their authorities and investigative powers to cause the Plaintiffs to be threatened and coerced into accepting unwanted and unnecessary medical procedures."

    In a transcript of the conversation, one man asked at what point "protective custody" stops. "Right after," multiple voices can be heard saying.

    "It’s two minutes or whatever it is," a woman chimed in.

    "How much beyond?" a man asked, to which another responded, "As soon as you give the injection."

    "Is it two minutes? Is it 10 minutes?" a woman asked. "Do we wait until DCFS says we are coming or we are not coming?"

    "They don’t have to come," another unidentified voice said. "I think protective custody is you just claim that you have done it."

  • Just a few months later, in August 2018, DCFS rescinded the policy that vitamin K shot refusals be reported to the department.

    Likewise, the ability for doctors and hospitals to claim "medical neglect" also was squashed.

    "We are simply trying to make sure that we are not overstepping the boundaries established for us under state law and promulgated in state rules," Acting DCFS Director BJ Walker wrote at the time, according to the Daily Mail. "This procedure inappropriately identifies what can and should be considered 'medically necessary.' Making that kind of determination falls outside the confines of our statutory and professional mission and judgment."

    "I don't think the families or the hospital are bad actors," said Dr. Jaspreet Loyal, an associate professor of pediatrics at Yale New Haven Hospital who spoke with the Daily Mail about the case. "The hospital [staff] advocates for children and they're trying to do the right thing. And the parents are looking at it as advocating for their child, and needing to do the right thing for them."

    Still, parents like Angela and Brian Bougher, whose baby was taken from them for 12 agonizing hours after her birth, want the agency and hospital to be held accountable for what happened to them.

    “I honestly could not understand what was going on,” Angela Bougher told the Chicago Tribune in September. “I was in total shock. I’ve never not had my baby right away."