Friday, December 09, 2005

Nancy Safsten vs. LDS Social Services of Utah


In 1996, birthmother Nancy Safsten filed a lawsuit in Third District Court, Salt Lake County, Utah, against LDS Social Services, Inc. and the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The following is an excerpt from the proceedings:

In 1966, appellant, who was then a twenty-three-year-old college student and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, became pregnant and contacted the predecessor of LDS Social Services (the Agency). During counseling sessions with the Agency, the Agency advised appellant to give the child up for adoption, because if she did not, she would ruin the child's life. The Agency assigned Gladys Carling to be the case worker in charge of appellant's case. Carling met with appellant several times between November 1966 and December 1967 to discuss placing the child for adoption. When the time for delivery arrived, appellant was admitted under an alias into St. Benedict's Hospital in Ogden, Utah, and the Agency was designated to pay her expenses. Appellant gave birth to a son on January 14, 1967.

After the delivery, appellant's physician placed her on the drug Thorazine, a sedative. Appellant asserts that while she was on the drug she was physically, mentally, and emotionally incapacitated. Two days after the birth, and while appellant was on the drug, Carling came to the hospital seeking a signature on a release in which appellant relinquished custody of her child to the Agency and consented to the child's adoption. Appellant signed the release and Carling placed the baby in the Agency's foster care.(1) Carling noted that at this time appellant appeared to be passive and indifferent and appeared to be on a sedative. Despite this, Carling believed appellant had the mental capacity to understand that she was giving up custody of her child and that she knowingly and voluntarily signed the release.

Soon thereafter, appellant visited the Agency to express her confusion and remorse from the loss of her child. The Agency told her there was nothing it could do for her. She contacted the Agency about thirty more times about the adoption in the following months. The Agency never gave her any information about the adoption or her condition at the time she signed the release. However, appellant does not claim she asked how the Agency got her consent to the adoption when she did not remember giving it.

Approximately two years later, in July 1969, appellant sent a letter to the hospital where the birth had occurred asking for records of the medical expenses she had incurred during her hospital stay so she could repay the Agency. The hospital responded with a letter stating: "Since the records of our no information maternity patients are destroyed, I can only send you an estimated amount." Appellant never asked for her medical records, only for a bill of the costs she incurred, although from her understanding of the letter she believed her medical records had been destroyed.

In 1990, appellant and the son she had given up for adoption were reunited. Then, on approximately May 29, 1990, appellant requested her son's medical records from the hospital. In response, the hospital mistakenly sent appellant her own medical records. After reading these records, appellant discovered that while she was in the hospital she had been administered the drug Thorazine. After learning this, appellant visited the Agency "to determine what documentation, if any, [the Agency] had of the authority it claimed in placing appellant's son for adoption." The Agency provided her the release she signed in the hospital. At this point appellant learned, after comparing the date of her signature to the dates in her medical records, that she was on the drug Thorazine when she signed the release.

Drug dosage and its effect

In private correspondence with The Adoption Digger, Nancy Safsten reported that her records indicated she had been given the first 50 mg dose of Thorazine six hours
before delivery of her baby, despite the fact that there was no documented medical condition warranting it. If you look up Thorazine on internet medical websites, you'll find that this drug is not merely a "sedative" as the judge wrote in his decision. Thorazine (brand name for chlorpromazine) is a powerful anti-psychotic drug, "prescribed to treat the symptoms of certain types of mental illness, such as emotional symptoms of psychosis, the manic phase of manic-depressive illness, and severe behavioral problems in children." It is not recommended for pregnant women, especially during either the first trimester or near term. It is believed to block certain chemicals involved with nerve transmission in the brain.

Reading the description of this drug on Wikipedia sends shivers down the spine:

Chlorpromazine (as chlorpromazine hydrochloride, abbreviated CPZ; marketed in the United States as Thorazine and elsewhere as Largactil) is a dopamine antagonist of the typical antipsychotic class of medications possessing additional antiadrenergic, antiserotonergic, anticholinergic and antihistaminergic properties used to treat schizophrenia. First synthesized on December 11, 1950, chlorpromazine was the first drug developed with specific antipsychotic action, and would serve as the prototype for the phenothiazine class of drugs, which later grew to comprise several other agents. The introduction of chlorpromazine into clinical use has been described as the single greatest advance in psychiatric care, dramatically improving the prognosis of patients in psychiatric hospitals worldwide[citation needed]; the availability of antipsychotic drugs curtailed indiscriminate use of electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery[citation needed], and was one of the driving forces behind the deinstitutionalization movement.
Recommended dosage? Quoting eMedTV:

Thorazine Dosing for Schizophrenia or Mania The recommended starting Thorazine dose for schizophrenia or mania is 10 mg three or four times daily or 25 mg two or three times a day. If your schizophrenia is especially severe (and you are hospitalized), your healthcare provider may choose to start you at a higher dose. If necessary, your healthcare provider may increase your Thorazine dose.

Thorazine Dosing for Nausea and Vomiting The recommended dose of Thorazine for severe nausea and vomiting is 10 mg to 25 mg every four to six hours as needed. 

In addition to the 50 mg dose of Thorazine administered prior to delivery, the day after delivery, Nancy Safsten was given three 50 mg doses. (Pharmacological recommendations indicate dosages this massive only in the most severe psychotic cases.) Even if she was being treated for nausea and vomiting following delivery that first day, her prescribed doses were anywhere from 100% to 500% higher than recommended.

The second day after delivery, because she lost consciousness twice due to the Thorazine, her dosage was cut to 25 mg three times a day. It was that day that, records show, she signed the relinquishment document. She has no memory of the social worker coming into her room that day, much less signing the document. Nor does she remember her mother visiting her several times.

Case worker recalls Nancy's appearing 'sedated' at relinquishment

Nancy's case worker, Gladys C. Carling, testified on her behalf at the hearing (formatted here in paragraph form, rather than outline form as it appeared in written court testimony):

During January, 1967, LD.S. Social Services ("Social Services") employed me as a case worker. As a regular part of my case worker duties, I obtained consents to adopt according to the following procedure:

Usually I would meet with the birth mother before she entered the hospital. I would inform the hospital the mother was under Social Services' jurisdiction and request that the hospital inform me when the birth occurred and not publish the birth otherwise. The hospital would inform me of the birth and of the child's general condition.

If there was no urgency regarding the mother's or child's health, I would visit the mother one or two days after the birth. If the birth mother desired to relinquish the child, I obtained her consent on the standard form release which L.D.S. Social Services used at the time.

In accord with Social Services' policy: i) I was the only witness to the birth mother's execution of the release. ii) Also in accord with Social Services policy, I acted as notary. iii) I did not review the birth mother's medical records or otherwise inquire about the birth mother's physical or mental capacity.

I met with plaintiff several times between November, 1966 and January, 1967. As of those meetings, plaintiff had not decided to relinquish the child. In those meetings, I noticed plaintiff was outspoken, direct and capable of forming her own opinion.

I met with plaintiff next on January 16, 1967, two days after plaintiff delivered her baby boy. I noticed plaintiff was not herself. I found plaintiff to be passive, indifferent and unaffected. Nonetheless, I obtained plaintiff's consent. Later, I took the baby with me and placed the baby in L.D.S. Social Services' foster care.

As was my standard practice, I recorded the subject events on an audio tape. In that recording, I stated I believed plaintiff was sedated at the time she gave her ostensible consent.

Several times after her delivery plaintiff expressed to me her confusion, remorse, heartache and void from the loss of her child.

Under Social Services' policy, Social Services would not allow plaintiff or any birth mother to revoke her consent based on remorse, grief, heartache, or void from the loss of the child.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Nancy Safsten Loses Her Case

Safsten's suit against the agency and the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop was dismissed, primarily because of statute of limitations. The judge ruled that she should have taken action immediately upon the loss of her child. A quote from the decision:
In this case, appellant introduced no facts supporting her claim that the defendants made any effort to conceal the fact that appellant was under the influence of the drug Thorazine at the time she signed the release. The defendants never refused any request by appellant to obtain the release she signed giving up custody of her child. Further, the defendants made no effort to hide appellant's medical records so as to keep appellant from discovering she was on Thorazine at the time she signed the release. If appellant had made a call to the hospital asking for her medical records, she would have received this information before the statute of limitations had run. Appellant has not made a prima facie showing that the defendants fraudulently concealed any relevant information from her. Thus, the fraudulent concealment version of the discovery rule does not apply to this case.
Not even a slap on the wrist for agency's obtaining signature while patient was drugged!

The judge's decision in effect acknowledged that she was drugged at the time her relinquishment was signed, but faults her for failing to investigate the matter sooner! What does this say about the overall tolerance of Utah's legal system when it comes to the procurement of infants by adoption brokers?

So why didn't Nancy send for her records sooner? (Aside from the fact that she assumed all her medical records had been destroyed along with billing records.)

First of all, she believed she could correct the misunderstanding by working with LDS Social Services, directly. Remember that in caseworker Gladys Carling's testimony, she told of being contacted by Nancy immediately following her release from the hospital. Totally bewildered and incredulous as to how she could have signed the surrender and not remember it, Nancy had pleaded with the agency to reverse her relinquishment. LDS Social Services represented her beloved church, in whom she had been taught to trust in all family matters. Surely they would have compassion on her and give her back her son, she believed. Repeatedly, over thirty more contacts with the agency, Nancy was told there was nothing that could be done. Moreover, the agency refused to give her any updated information on her son.

As for her declared failure to obtain her medical records early on, why would she have felt the need to request them? Why would she have suspected anything as horrendous as collaboration between LDS Social Services, physicians and other medical hospital personnel to drug her into oblivion in order to obtain her signature? How would a young, trusting mother who lost her child even
begin to suspect such a diabolical - if not criminal - conspiracy?

Timing of Thorazine administration

Case worker Gladys Carling said in her testimony, "If there was no urgency regarding the mother's or child's health, I would visit the mother one or two days after the birth. If the birth mother desired to relinquish the child, I obtained her consent on the standard form release which L.D.S. Social Services used at the time."

As luck would have it, Gladys Carling didn't make it to the hospital the day after Nancy Safsten's baby was born; she went
two days later. Had she gone there the next day after the birth (as allowed by Utah law), it would have been the day Nancy had been doped with 150 mg of Thorazine (three doses of 50 mg each)! It's perfectly obvious that Nancy was being pharmaceutically 'prepared' to be presented with the surrender document for her signature as soon as the 24-hour legal waiting period had expired.

So....the social worker didn't show up that day. What then? The 50 mg doses couldn't continue to be administered another day, because Nancy kept passing out. So dosage was reduced to 25 mg three times that day. If 25 mg doses rendered Nancy "passive, indifferent, unaffected" and "sedated" (Carling's words),
can you imagine what her condition would have been the day before - on three 50 mg doses? Yet, if Gladys Carling had gone to the hospital that day, she could have requested Nancy Safsten's signature on an irrevocable document, with no other witnesses present. And it would have been perfectly legal according to Utah's adoption laws.

  1. What physician prescribed Thorazine in these astronomical doses for Nancy, and for what medical reason?
  2. Why did hospital personnel - nurses, pharmacist/s, administrator/s - participate in this atrocity? Who were they, and the physician, taking orders from, and by whose authority?
  3. If Nancy had some medical condition that required the administration of heavy doses of Thorazine, why wasn't the signing of a life-altering legal document postponed until she was no longer under the drug's effects?
  4. It was nice of Gladys Carlin to come forward to testify on Nancy's behalf thirty years after the loss of Nancy's baby. But why on God's green earth did she present for signature and then accept a legal document from a client she admits "was sedated at the time she gave her ostensible consent"? Why didn't she refuse to take the consent until she was satisfied that Nancy was no longer sedated?
  5. What kind of adoption law allows a birthmother to sign a legally-binding relinquishment of her child in the presence of one witness - the adoption agency's social worker, doubling as Notary Public?
  6. Where were Carling's supervisors, who should have reviewed all reports, including her tape-recorded observations on Nancy's condition, before proceeding with the adoption?
  7. Where was the finalizing court's responsibility to review all records, including agency social workers' reports, before accepting a mother's relinquishment and permitting the agency to make an adoptive placement?
  8. Why weren't this hospital, its staff, and LDS Social Services all investigated as a result of the medical evidence presented in Nancy's lawsuit, whether or not the court ruled in her favor?
  9. What can be done NOW to bring about an investigation of the activities of Nancy's doctor, the hospital, and LDS Social Services relative to their relinquishment procedures?
  10. Is anyone monitoring agency social workers and hospitals in Utah NOW?
AND FINALLY: How many other mothers were drugged on "someone's" order for the purpose of procuring their newborn babies - and just haven't discovered the truth yet? Surely Nancy Safsten's case is not unique.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

For More News Accounts of Utah-based Adoption Agencies

Carmen McDonald of Chicago, Illinois, lost her three-month-old daughter, Tamia, to a slick adoption agency based in
Utah. Through the relentless efforts of Carmen's mother, her church, her community, and the State of Illinois, Carmen was able to get Tamia back. However, the Baby Tamia story is just the tip of a very big iceberg. Read more here:
  • Beyond Baby Tamia

    In 1993, when pregnant Michelle Renaud's marriage was in trouble and she needed a roof over her head, she sought guidance from LDS Social Services in Massachusetts. The help her social worker offered was conditional: to get it she must relinquish her child to adoption. What she didn't learn until much later was that her LDS social worker was not licensed in her state, and that he broke a host of Massachusetts state laws in convincing her to surrender her son. Read Michelle's story here:
  • Unlicensed LDS Social Worker