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Newborn's Death Revives Debate over Mandatory Midwife Licensing

Photodisc/Thinkstock(EUGENE, Ore.) -- Oregon's thriving midwife community has long operated outside the bounds of state regulation, but a recent increase in safety reports combined with the highly publicized death of a Eugene, Oregon newborn during a homebirth this July has revived debate over whether midwives should have to be licensed to practice in the state.

Among the 40 states that allow midwifery, the laws regulating them vary greatly.  Oregon and Utah, however, are the only states that have optional licensure of midwives.

It was to one of the unlicensed midwives, Darby Partner, that Eugene resident Margarita Sheikh turned to this summer when preparing to give birth to her son.

But tragedy struck as Partner and her assistant, Laura Tanner, were delivering Sheikh's son Shahzad.  He was born not breathing and attempts to revive him failed.

Sheikh said Partner initially ignored her requests to be taken to a hospital and that Partner and Tanner panicked when her infant was not breathing, arguing over how to perform infant CPR.  They eventually took Sheikh to a nearby hospital shortly after her son's birth but it was too late to save him.

Though Partner has more than a decade of experience, according to her online midwife profile, she does not have the optional state licensure nor certification as a professional midwife (CPM) that is offered by the North American Registry of Midwives.

Because unlicensed midwives are not regulated by the state, Sheikh cannot file a complaint against this midwife.

Now, Sheikh is calling for mandatory licensure of all midwives so her baby's death is not "for nothing."

Many midwives and advocates of midwifery contest the notion of mandatory licensure, arguing that it will not change the safety of home births.

"We're not in favor of mandatory licensure," said Susan Moray, press officer for Midwives Alliance of North America.  "We don't see that it makes a difference in birth outcomes.  It doesn't create more safety."

The alliance supports the CPM training, but hesitates to say that midwives need even that training because there are many qualified midwives with years of experience that have neither.  Instead, Moray said, women should look to standards of care set by the midwife community.

"We do peer reviews several times a year and ask the midwives how many births they've delivered, what complications they've handled, and which medications they can use," she said.  "I would encourage any woman seeking a midwife to ask the same questions."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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