Convicted midwife jailed for not revealing drug source

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

HOLMESVILLE, Ohio (AP) - As friends and supporters wept and sang hymns, a lay midwife convicted of illegally giving a patient drugs to slow bleeding after a birth went to jail Wednesday rather than disclose the source of the drugs.

"It seems so unfair," said Cathy Schmidt, 39, of Big Prairie, who delivered five of her six children with Frieda Miller's help. "What good is going to come of this? What is this going to prove?"

As Miller arrived at the Holmes County jail, several dozen supporters lined the walkway and tossed flowers in her path. Wearing an Amish-style cap and dress, she walked arm-in-arm with supporters to the jail door.

Miller, 47, of Berlin Township, pleaded guilty in May to misdemeanor charges of attempted unauthorized practice of medicine and possession of dangerous drugs. Lay midwives without formal training are not recognized by the state.

Holmes County Common Pleas Judge Thomas D. White sentenced Miller to 360 days in jail, but suspended the sentence in favor of three years of probation and ordered her to cooperate with authorities.

She refused to disclose where she got the prescription drugs Pitocin and Methergine, which she administered to a woman Dec. 17 to stop bleeding after childbirth. Members of the Ohio Midwives Alliance said Miller's use of the drugs probably saved the patient's life.

On Wednesday, White found Miller in contempt of court for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the source of the drugs. She will be jailed until Dec. 31, the end of the grand jury's term, or longer if the grand jury's term is extended. Her attorney said she would not serve more than six months.

"We do not understand this circumstance," said the Rev. Leon Miller, pastor of Shiloh Fellowship Church in Fredericksburg and no relation to Frieda Miller. He led the group of Miller's supporters in prayer outside the jail. He thanked God for the government and the protection provided by law but added that "something seems to have gone wrong."

As the group sang a hymn, a deputy approached Frieda Miller and said, "Frieda, please come in now."

Miller, who complied, declined to speak to reporters. Asked if she was worried, she said, "No."

White found Miller in contempt for not complying with a court order to testify before the grand jury investigating the matter. He said she had until Wednesday afternoon to disclose the name or she would be jailed until Dec. 31, the end of the grand jury's term.

Miller's attorney, David Knowlton, described Miller's supplier as "someone who was merely interested in making midwifery safer" and is no longer supplying drugs to anyone.

Knowlton said he might appeal the sentence in a few days. Miller could face another jail term if she defies a future directive to testify before a grand jury, he said.

Knowlton said Miller went to jail "rather than putting someone else through what she's been through."

Nicole Oney, 31, of Akron, said she is due to deliver her baby in two weeks and Miller is her midwife.

"I'd rather be at home than at the hospital, where I am in the presence of people I love and trust," she said.

Dr. Maurice Mullet, health commissioner for Holmes County, said home births have been on the rise in the county in recent years. He said the county has an average of 70 to 75 home births each year. About 500 to 600 children are born in hospitals in the county yearly.

Many of Miller's supporters from the Amish community of northeast Ohio said they would go to a hospital for medical emergencies but said they wanted the option of a home birth with a midwife. The Amish dress simply, shun most technology and travel in distinctive black buggies.

Assistant Holmes County Prosecutor Stephen Knowling said the case was unfortunate but Miller's decision "has put both our office and the court in a position where they had no choice. She basically drew a line in the sand."

Knowling said Miller's midwife role was secondary and said the key issue was an order to testify before a grand jury looking into a possible case of felony drug possession.

"We couldn't treat her any different than anyone else," Knowling said.

The outpouring of support for Miller was typical of the close-knit Amish community, according to Howard L. Sacks, professor of sociology and director of the Rural Life Center at Kenyon College.

Support for Miller "is a major reflection of the community-mindedness that characterizes the Amish community, something that is different from the radical individuality of modern life," Sacks said.

He said the use of midwives reflected an Amish openness to a variety of medical practices, including modern and home remedies.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)