Indiana couple who rejected child's medical care faces $172,000 bill

Monday, August 15, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS -- A couple convicted of reckless homicide in their newborn daughter's death must pay the hospital bill for another daughter who was kept in intensive care for 75 days despite their religious objections, an appeals court ruled.

Dewayne and Maleta Schmidt now face a nearly $172,000 medical bill for 5-year-old Makalynn, along with a work-release sentence following their convictions in the 2003 death of their other daughter, Rhianna.

The Schmidts are members of the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which advocates prayer and faith healing over medical intervention, though it does not require members to shun medical care.

A three-judge panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled last week that the Schmidts' religious objections to medical treatment did not negate their parental duty to pay for their child's health care.

"Parents, while free to make martyrs of themselves, are not free under identical circumstances to make martyrs of their children," Judge Margret G. Robb wrote.

Phone messages left at the couple's home seeking comment during the weekend were not returned.

Authorities went to the couple's home in 1999 following an anonymous 911 call that a pregnant woman was in medical distress, according to court documents.

The deputies called for an ambulance for Maleta Schmidt, who was then seven months pregnant, even though her husband refused consent and told them he had no health insurance and would not pay for any medical services. Hospital doctors ordered an emergency Caesarean section despite the couple's objections.

The hospital did not charge the Schmidts for Maleta's care, but it did bill them nearly $172,000 for Makalynn's delivery and stay, and later went to court to collect when the couple refused to pay. The judge ruled in favor of the hospital.

The Schmidts appealed, arguing that they were not obligated to pay because they repeatedly told medical personnel about their religious objections and that they would not pay for care.

The couple's other daughter, Rhianna Rose Schmidt, died from an infection typically treated with antibiotics less than two days after she was born at home in August 2003. Instead of taking the ailing infant to a doctor or hospital, the couple asked church elders to pray over her.

The Schmidts were convicted in May of reckless homicide charges in Rhianna's death and were sentenced Friday to staggered one-year sessions of work release so that one parent could care for their two children while the other serves time.

The Schmidts' probation includes a directive to seek medical help should their children encounter life-threatening health problems. They also must take classes in first aid and CPR.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: