Cross-posted at F-words by Sara Anderson.
I've been thinking a lot about this story lately, about a two parents who watched their three-month-old child born with a cleft palate starve to death when they were unable to feed her, afraid to seek medical attention without health insurance.
Their daughter, Katrina Lauderdale, was born in Burns, Ore., on Oct. 24, 2006, with a cleft palate, a facial deformity requiring special feeding procedures. While in Oregon, she was seen weekly by doctors who instructed the couple how to feed their baby and provided them with special bottle and nipple systems, according to a police affidavit.
But after they moved to Spokane last November when Charles Lauderdale took a new job, the doctor visits stopped. Charles Lauderdale lost his job and his wife went to work, leaving the baby in her husband’s care when she was working.
Two Oregon doctors concerned about the baby’s failure to gain weight had advised the parents they needed to keep Katrina under continuing medical supervision in Spokane, but the couple later told police investigators they had no health insurance, the court affidavit says. No Spokane doctors saw Katrina.
It makes me so sad, and so angry. From the description, it sounds like the couple did act gravely and criminally irresponsible, even in their bad situation. But I still feel for them. I'd like to think that there are public assistance programs they could have turned to, or that if I were in the same situation, I'd have brought the child to the emergency room, hospital debt be damned. I can also imagine some of the fears of the parents'; that if they brought the child to the hospital, she would have been taken away by state services, and if not now, when they hospital bills came due and they lost their home. Or maybe they hoped to wait it out, until the father found a new job or the mother finished her probationary period at work and began to receive health benefits. But even if these two were simply stupid and cruel, their child was the last person who deserved to pay the price for it.
If the parents didn't have to think about what a doctor's visit would do to their financial security, things would surely have turned out differently. Universal healthcare is fallible like any other system, but at least it doesn't punish families like Katrina's for seeking help. If a child's parents are already stupid and cruel, financial roadblocks between her and the medical care she needs aren't going to help.
And we see this so clearly in Katrina's case, where she thrived with public assistance, and starved to death without it. There are a patchwork of nurse home visitation programs in Washington, programs that have been shown to work, but Katrina was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Even the clever and kind among us realize that the Lauderdales had only bad and worse to choose from. Add some ignorance, a great amount of fear, and probably some wishful thinking, and it becomes clearer how these things happen. These are the stakes, and consciously doing nothing to change things has a real an impact on peoples' lives as any changes do. We can punish this couple as hard as we want, but as long as the same system puts the same pressures on all of us, we'll see the scenario play out over and over.