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Published: January 31, 2013 11:50 am to Culture News

Doctor insists parents choose starvation and slow death for baby born with cleft lip

I first heard about the Peterson family in what you might call a “chance meeting.” (Of course, I don’t believe in chances; I believe that there is Someone Who has a plan and a purpose behind the random occurrences in our lives.) And I firmly believe that this amazing family’s story needs to be told. It’s scary. It’s shocking. And its implications are dangerous.

How many other hospitals starve babies to death, simply based on a “defect”? How many other doctors instruct new parents to leave their newborns to die or wallow in an institution for the rest of their lives?

We’re aware that many doctors in the United States recommend abortions for babies whose potential disabilities show up on ultrasounds or in prenatal testing. We’re also aware that, sadly, all too many parents choose abortion in these cases. And all too often, either their babies are discovered to be perfectly “normal” or the parents later on discover that the disability or defect was one they definitely could have lovingly dealt with, had they only been given accurate and complete information.

Our society has become consumer- and product-focused in an ultimately dangerous way. When we, the consumers, discover the news that our children, the product, are not quite up to par with our expectations, we are given the choice to end an innocent life. Perfection – though impossible to define – is the standard demanded. And who among us truly meets it?

The Peterson FamilyHere are the Petersons – Quentin, Aidan, and Jodi – and here is their story:

1)   What condition was Aidan born with?

Aidan was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. This affects about one in seven hundred children. We had no family history of this condition. All babies at some point in their early development have a cleft, but it spontaneously “knits” together (bringing to mind the Scripture, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb”), unless there is a genetic issue, if the mother is deficient in folate and from certain ethnic groups, or if the mother suffers certain viral illnesses at the time of gestation. In our case, Jodi had contracted the flu very early in pregnancy with a high fever.

2)   When did you/the doctors discover his condition?

On October 7, 1997, our 8-pound, 14-ounce son Aidan was born at a hospital in Modesto, California. Immediately after he was fully delivered, we knew something was wrong. The doctors lowered him out of our sight instead of putting him on Jodi’s stomach and began whispering to each other. That’s when they told us he was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. It had not shown up on an ultrasound. We were shocked.

3)   What advice were you given?

The day after he was born, Aidan was taken into the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) because he was unable to breastfeed and was becoming dehydrated and weak. The hospital did not have the type of bottles babies with a cleft use to feed. The hospital pediatrician called my husband into the nursery and advised us to sign Aidan over to the hospital. He told us that we were still young, we could still have other children, and that these kids (kids with cleft lip and palate) tend to have neurological problems; he would require many surgeries that could bankrupt us, and if we were foolish enough to ignore medical advice and take our baby home, he would end right back at the hospital as a “failure to thrive.”

The “treatment plan” the doctor told us was that they’d give our son pain medicine and let him die (of starvation and dehydration). Jodi began to cry and refused, at which point the doctor turned to Quentin and said, “Get her out of here, she’s being irrational.” He thought he would have a better chance at convincing Quentin to leave the baby.

He was wrong. Quentin also refused to sign the papers. We didn’t have a plan and didn’t know where to find help, but we could not fathom abandoning our son to certain death alone. It had to be the grace of God, to give us courage to choose life when the hospital authority was telling us otherwise. It was, for both of us, the absolute scariest time in our lives.

4)   What choice did you make and why?

We chose to fight for our son and love him, and we never regretted that decision.

We couldn’t believe they were giving Aidan this death sentence, but we would not abandon him. We could not imagine anything more heartbreaking than to have a helpless child left alone for the brief entirety of his life. Even if he had one day to live, he would spend that day being loved by us.

Then God’s providence stepped in. A nurse contacted a woman who herself was born with a cleft lip and palate who ran a local support group. She brought us the cleft palate nurser bottles. (These are supposed to be in every hospital, and all nursing and medical staff are to be trained to use them, since it’s a fairly common birth defect.) This meant that our baby was finally able to eat. That hungry baby took his first bottle and rested in our arms. This was an unbelievable blessing. We did take him home, and he thrived. He has had eight surgeries to correct his lip and palate and associated difficulties like ear tubes, bone grafts, and scarring, and we’re anticipating a few more in the future.

5)   Can you tell us about Aidan? What are his interests? What does he like to do with his free time?

Aidan is now 15 years old and in his freshman year of high school. He is a big brother to 13-year-old Devin (brother) and 10-year-old Kiera (sister). They’re home-schooled, and his studies include Latin, logic, literature, and math. Aidan’s a typical teenager and an avid reader, and his interests include animation, writing, history, the military, and aviation. He’s involved in his church’s teen group and is a member of 4H. He loves going out and playing paintball with his buddies. His pets include a dog and eight chickens.

6)   Looking back on the time before Aidan was born and the advice you were given and seeing him now as a 15-year-old, what advice would you give parents in a similar position?

Love your child with complete abandon, every moment that you are blessed to be with him. Love your child for who he is, and don’t let anyone scare you about future issues. No one knows what the future holds – not for us or for our children – but we know that love is eternal. Learn everything you can about whatever ails your child (the internet is a wealth of knowledge).

Fight for your children’s health care. No one will have their best interest at heart but the parents; God has given you the opportunity and responsibility to be their advocate. Every person on this earth has two things in common – we’re all made in the image of God, and none of us are perfect. We all have challenges, but do they diminish our ability to give and receive love? No. So don’t put too much faith in what doctors say – they can be wrong – but put your faith in God, who is never wrong.

7)   Does Aidan have any advice to give? What’s his perspective on this whole situation?

First off, I’d like to speak to everyone with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. You’re normal. The fact is that you’re just like everyone else, but you look somewhat different. I personally like to think it’s an improvement that God bestows on the lucky few and everyone else is just jealous (grinning here).

Looking back on my life, I’m very glad that my parents fought so hard for me, and disappointed that life seems to be so cheap in this generation – much like a passive waste to be disposed of if it doesn’t meet the irrationally perfect standards set forth by today’s murderous society.

What is my perspective on the situation? As I said, the world today disappoints me, and I pray it will soon end its ways. For any and all parents who are stuck in the same or similar situation that my parents were, listen up. Your kid is worth it, be he or she mentally or physically disabled. And as my mom said, if your kid has only one day to live, spend it loving your child.

Put yourself in your kid’s shoes. You have one day to live, no two ways about it. Which is better: to spend that day with your loving parents, or to starve to death while uncaring doctors simply pass you by, not caring at all for your plight? Answer that question, and then make a decision on your kid’s life.

About Kristi Burton Brown

Kristi Burton Brown is a pro-life attorney, volunteering for Life Legal Defense Foundation and also as an allied attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom. She enjoys being a stay-at-home mom, and is married to the amazing David Brown. Together, they have the cutest two kiddos in the world! Kristi loves her Savior, Jesus Christ, speaking out for the truth, reading historical fiction, scrapbooking, politics, and cooking.

She also has her own blog at: www.thelostgenerations.wordpress.com


View all posts by Kristi Burton Brown

  • Angelina Steiner

    Wow, what is wrong with this doctor? Oh, if your child is not perfect well then we just have to kill him. This doctor medical license should be revoke because he is INHUMAN!!!

    • MCH

      If a doctor talked like that in front of MY wife, I’d probably say that to his face…and maybe some other words that would be inappropriate to post here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lois.anderson Lois Anderson

    This is an incredible story. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  • Laura P.

    I cannot fathom how disturbing this is. A perfectly fine child who happens to need surgery to fix a “defect” and they want to kill him? Holy cow, people! If only doctors followed the original Hippocratic oath…Thanks for sharing this story!

  • Elizabeth Shearer

    Personally, I would love to know who this doctor is/was and at what hospital he is/was allowed to practice the art of being a monstrous proponent of torturing to death a helpless newborn baby. In any case, Aiden is a beautiful young man worthy of the love and protection of his parents. Thank the Lord they chose to refuse the advice to murder their own child because he wasn’t as “perfect” as the doctors wanted him to be. I’ll hold out hope that the doctor will read their story one day and see how very wrong he was.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659776223 Ginny Tucker

    It is totally fixable!!! Check out Mending Kids International, who fix children like this all the time.

  • Beth

    Thanks for sharing this story, Kristi. Both troubling and heart-warming.

  • http://twitter.com/MarauderTheSN Marauder

    One of my cousins was born with a cleft palate, though not a cleft lip, and the thought that this doctor would have been okay with leaving him to die infuriates me. I never even got the impression from my aunt and uncle that taking care of my cousin was all that difficult. They just had to feed him with a different sort of cup, make sure nothing came out his nose, and then he got surgery and later saw a speech therapist. (Weirdly enough, my cousin is also homeschooled, in 4H, and has chickens, like Aidan. Huh,)

    It’s even more appalling that this would happen in America, as opposed to, say, some third-world nation where everyone lives in shacks and indoor plumbing is a luxury. We put men on the moon – clearly, we can figure out how to feed a kid with a cleft palate.

    I’d be really interested to know if this doctor is still practicing medicine, and, if so, if he’s ever had any official sanctions.

    • Triisha28

      In third world countries like the one I came from children are precious gift. Cleft palate is routinely repaired and my sister has down syndrome and she is 26 yrs and has no speech but we love her all the same. My son has autism and he is a precious gift from God. So in this light third world still rocks and sorry Marauder we do not all live in Shacks and even if we did rather a morsel of bread and water in a shack in peace than in America where God has been forgotten.

  • Holly H

    My son is 17 and was born with bilateral cleft lip and palate. I have always said if your child has to be born with something wrong this is the best one because it is cosmetic. My son is super intelligent and an awesome ball player for his high school. How can any doctor think it is ok to say what these said. I found out at 5 months and it was never mentioned that I should terminate. I was lucky to have a great doctor that helped prepare us for the birth of our son.

  • Shannon

    The doctor thought JODI was being irrational?! If someone suggested that to me, I would have lunged at him and torn his face off!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001025709693 Donna Stover

    that doctor should be tried for attempted murder

  • Tammy

    Doctors will circumcise an infant boy even tho’ it isn’t necessary but they advise parents to dispose of a child with a cleft lip? That doesn’t make sense.

  • MairinT

    Almost forty years ago my brother in law and his wife in Holland found their first child had Downs Syndrome. The doctors told them “you have 3 days to make up your minds – keep him or give him to the state”. They gave him away and to this day I do not know if he is still alive or where he is. God Bless that dear boy.

    • http://twitter.com/tlcoopi7 Tabi Jozwick

      My parents were given that advice to put me in an institution by a nurse, but they refused. To this day they want to slap that nurse.

    • Me

      Adoption (assuming he was adopted and not left in an institution) isn’t always necessary in difficult pregnancy/birth situations I think, but at least he wasn’t starved to death.
      P.S. IMHO “giving a child away” makes it sound like the baby is a piece of furniture or something and is being given up casually when in most cases it is a very difficult and painful decision for the mother, even if she feels it is the right one for her child.*
      *Adoption in general that is, not this specific case.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1168629448 Michele Brewster

    I really want to know where this happened? This makes me so angry! It sounds like something from the UK and their “death wards.” I’m an RN who worked in a NICU for 11 years and these babies with cleft lip/palate have nothing “wrong” with them they just need a little “plastic surgery”! I am appalled at this “physician’s” suggestion! :(

    • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.kosterbanse Jennifer Koster Banse

      Under question #2 it says Modesto, California.

  • SavingDowns
  • http://twitter.com/Pharmer1 Pharmer1

    Aidan for President 2032!

  • Hannah Mallery

    Depending on how hard the doctor insisted on abortion and insulted the choice of life for a child he deemed “unworthy,” if I were in this sort of situation, I would sue for his last penny. Doctors are first and foremost to save life, and secondly to respect the wishes of patients, neither of which this man seemed to be willing to do.

  • tram

    I have people who are doubting the veracity of this story… I believe it’s possible that it could happen in today’s throw-away culture, but is there any way to verify if this is true? The doubters think there’s no way a doctor in 1997 USA would suggest such a thing.

  • tram

    Wondering if my comment didn’t post…? I posted last night and was just wondering what I could tell people about this story because they doubted its veracity. I don’t want to know specifics or anything like that. But the doubters on my facebook page (I had shared this story yesterday) don’t think it’s possible or even probable that a doctor in 1997 US would suggest such a thing. Kristi, if I could get a response from you, that would be very helpful to me.

    • Kristiburtonbrown

      Hey Tram, I’ve personally communicated with Jodi Peterson (the mom) and she’s the one who told me their family’s story. I know it sounds unbelievable to some, but I’m afraid that people – myself included – need to wake up and realize that America actually has a number of “medical professionals” and others who believe in eugenics and want to end the life of anyone who they don’t deem “perfect.”

      On a side note, about ten years ago, I stood outside a grocery store, collecting signatures for a partial-birth abortion ban with my brothers, and a guy there asked us what partial-birth abortion was. When we told him medically what happened, he said, “You’re making that up. That doesn’t happen in America.” Some people just don’t want to face reality because it really is that horrible sometimes.

      Anyway, I’m not really sure how people who doubt this story expect it to be verified if they don’t believe the mom’s firsthand account, but let me know if there’s something else you need and I’ll see what I can do…

  • kay Adams

    What hospital was this at? Our son has the same thing and all our doctors were so good and told us all this can be repaired. That is so sad and shocking!!

    • Kristiburtonbrown

      It is shocking! Aidan was born at a hospital in Modesto, California.

  • Justwondering

    Kristi, I am curious. Did the Peterson family have health insurance? And, how did they pay for all the surgeries? Thanks.

    • Kristiburtonbrown

      I’m honestly not sure. I didn’t ask those kind of questions, as I think that’s personal information =). If you’re wondering because you need to find out how to pay for these kind of surgeries, I’m sure you could contact an organization that helps kids with cleft lips – like Mending Kids International – and they could probably direct you.

      • Justwondering

        Sorry to bug you again but I really think whether or not the Peterson family had health insurance at the time of their son’s birth is relevant to the message of your article. Most hospitals are for profit businesses and have corporate policies against giving away healthcare (when not obligated by law). I know a woman who was given back her premature infant to die in her arms because she could not pay for an incubator and it wasn’t because there is a culture of death at the doctor level in this country. These decisions were made before hand by people interested in making money. I would imagine that if the Peterson family had a clear way to pay for everything their son needed right from the start, he would have received the best of care. It’s not that I don’t think this country has a serious problem, I just think that you are focusing in the wrong place and information about whether or not they had health insurance is very relevant to this discussion should we all wish to continue in a civil, informed and reasonable way. Thank you for your time.

        • Kristiburtonbrown

          I see your point, but I still don’t think it’s an issue in this story. After the doctor gave his horrible advice, the Petersons took their son home – so I don’t think he needed further care from the hospital at that point. It was an issue of taking him home or leaving him at the hospital to die. And that doesn’t have a lot to do with insurance. So yes, in some stories – like the one you told – insurance really does matter and that should be fixed for sure. But in other stories, it’s not really at issue, and from what I know, this is one of them.

  • Basset_Hound

    This “doctor” would probably have recommended starvation for Cheech Marin (of Cheech and Chong), Joacquin Phoenix, Peyton Manning, Jesse Jackson, Carmit Bacher (of the Pussycat Dolls) and many…many others.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathren.stehno Kathren Stehno

    Having lived for 56 years with a bilateral cleft palate and lip, I have experienced various reactions from physicians who were in charge of my treatment. My parents were young and poor thus my medical care was through a university hospital where medical students received their training. Ninety percent of the time those giving care were kind and encouraging. However, I do have some “not so good” memories of a few doctors who were cruel (i.e. one made fun of my speech; a dental student pulled my hair while I was wrenching in pain) and definitely did not have the compassion needed to work with children having defects. Through such experiences in addition to witnessing the unconcern/disregard for the unborn, it does not surprise me that there are some who would have such a perspective as this Doctor in CA.

    I’m so happy to know that Aiden has wonderful parents who have instilled in him a strong sense of how special he is and that he was knitted together in a most unique way by our Creator.

    Kathren Stehno

  • cgoehling

    My mother fed me with a spoon at day one. I was so near death I couldn’t nurse. She then patted my fanny so I would not go to sleep and choke. She fed this vegetable love and milk. I was so blue at birth the doctor thought I would surely die. I am 81 and I am against the murder of human beings at any age. I include in my age the fact that for 9 months I was alive in my mom’s belly I give her the credit for allowing me to kick her in the belly from the inside. That doctor was usurping Jehovah’s position of LORD. Paybacks are Hell, Heb. 10:30.

    • http://heatherradish.blogspot.com Radish

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. :)

  • SR

    I am friends with a family and their youngest daughter was born with a cleft lip. Thankfully, her parents are in the medical profession and knew exactly what to do. Today she is also thriving – intelligent, gifted athlete, very personable with many friends and a young person who undoubtedly has a great future. Sure, it has been difficult at times through many surgeries but she has always been loved and is herself a very loving person. Life should never be cheapened but always celebrated. Every person is unique and has different gifts to give this world. Period.

  • Violet

    “Every person on this earth has two things in common – we’re all made in the image of God, and none of us are perfect. ” That quote belongs on prominent display somewhere. It’s like a proverb; everyone needs to hear it.

  • HeartsOnFire

    Doctors are trained to do everything they can think of to save ANY life. He shouldn’t even call himself a doctor.They’re supposed to help people. Besides, most of the people doctors treat aren’t physically perfect anyway. Hence the visit to the doctor’s office…. I sure hope he finds his way to God someday… I choose to love that doctor. And God loves him too.

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  • MCH

    Our healthcare system is full of some real monsters. I speak from personal experience. I have spent practically my whole life with a chronic medical condition that has put me in to the hospital more times than most people go in their whole life (and I’m only 24 right now).

    A lot of them care more about their careers or their personal comfort than they do their patients.

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  • Mama Wrench

    After seeing my husband nearly blow when my OB suggested putting our baby’s life in danger (for an unnecessary preterm c-section at 34 weeks, for NO medical reason), this doc would have the WRONG IDEA if he thought my husband would just hand our baby over to suffer to death. Let’s just say, Doc would be lucky they’re already in a hospital.

  • Elizabeth

    I was born in 1987, with a very rare form of dwarfism. So rare only about 40 people in the world have it, only 150 have been born with it in the last 100 years. The doctors took me away, refused to let my mom have me and sent a psychiatrist in and suggested she give me to the state. She had to fight to get me out of the nursery, and walked out of the hospital 8 hours after having a c-section. That wasn’t very long ago either. Stuff like this did happen and just because it doesn’t happen as often today doesn’t mean never.

    Because of my dwarfism I cannot give birth, I simply go into labor and stay that way until death or c-section (my birth canal is not big enough for even a babies head). In 2008 I was in premature labor with my son, documented and watched for 6 weeks, pills did nothing, it was full blown labor. The doctors and nurses both sent me home every time. I finally made it to 37 weeks and I was told my son would be dead if they attempted to deliver then, even though he was in fetal distress from the labor. I was sent home until almost 41 weeks gestation by their calender before they would deliver him. They told me to be prepared he was going to die no matter what and if he did live, would be severely retarded, and when I started crying was told I was too attached to the unborn child… He was born 7 pounds even and showed signs of being overdue by quite awhile, his skin was even peeling already (needless to say, I or my mother stayed with him the entire stay, everything they did happened in MY room, the baths and all, it wasn’t a very good impression on me about their competence.) He’s now 4 and already knows basic reading, writing, basic math and was turned down for pre-school because they didn’t think he’d benefit because he is advanced. __He’s a far cry from retarded like they predicted.

    Just because we’re “modern” does not mean we have more heart or that doctors are incapable of doing such things. They still do, they still think they know everything and that their word goes no matter what, just like in this case, he thought he had the final say about the baby and it’s value. HE put a value on a baby who had a cleft lip. He didn’t think of anyone else. It’s sad. But it still happens.

  • angel

    I don’t believe this pro life crap its all propaganda. No Dr in 1997 is going to tell people to “sign the baby over to the hospital”.

    • http://twitter.com/gaberuski gabe lytle

      Angel,
      If you don’t believe that, please don’t disregard the endless “reasons” why we can have abortions in this nation. The bottom line is that if you believe Pro-Life is crap, then you approve of leaving a little girl to starve to death because of her skin.

      This isn’t a political conspiracy or propaganda, it’s been happening in the USA (legally) since 1973. You could stare at 55,000,000 children and tell them it’s “crap.” That word doesn’t take you very far.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/2JBHEN7AXG2FYQHDZPT2TIRN3U Jeanette Victoria

      Liberal don’t want the truth look how angry it makes them. Life is cheap these days. This doesn’t surprise me one bit.

    • trueptbo

      I agree. Name the doctor, name the hospital, SOME sort of facts, please!

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  • just me

    What a handsome young man!

  • http://twitter.com/gaberuski gabe lytle

    I was born with a cleft lip only. I’m now 23, and do my best to use my story as a bridge between what we call “life” vs. what we call “quality of life.” Whether on campus (I attend KSU in GA), online, face to face, etc. I view it as a special gift to not waste. Great to read that Aidan has the same heart! – gabe

  • Devon

    wow! reading this has really given me goosebumps. not only because I find it shocking that a doctor would even think about this let alone suggesting it! but the similarities here are so strong, they bought a tear to my eye! it was weird I was actually crying haha because my name is Devon (same name as aiden’s brother except im a girl haha) and I was born with a bilateral cleft lip…on the 7th October 1992! how insane!!! :D and completely agree with what aiden said, we’re just like everyone else, I even forget that my lip is different to everyone else’s because its never an issue for me or anyone else, its not until I look in a mirror and realise “oh yeah I have a cleft lip ” haha I forget that its different to anyone elses, and I like that, being different is special. eventhough the subject matter of this article is totally sad and unbelievable, reading about aiden and his family has totally brightened up my day, high five aiden! we’re pretty damn awesome! xoxo

  • Jennifer Starr

    I don’t understand–why didn’t they sue and take this story to the media back in 1997?