A woman from South Carolina has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for involuntary killing of her 6-week-old daughter with an overdose of morphine delivered through her breast milk, according to prosecutor’s statement. The case has aroused much controversy both among lawyers and medical experts.
Stephanie Greene, a 39-year-old nurse, was convicted of homicide by child abuse, involuntary manslaughter and unlawful “negligent breastfeeding.” The prosecutor claimed that the woman was aware of a danger of taking painkillers while pregnant and breast feeding. However she continued getting her prescriptions and didn’t decrease the dose. It should be noted that in 2010 Greene was taking morphine and other pain killers to overcome the pain of fibromyalgia. Earlier, in 1998, during a car-accident she got several serious injuries, including a skull fracture, occipital nerve disruption, multiple rib fractures. Since that time the woman has been suffering from seizures, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2004 she lost her nursing license for trying to get drugs illegally.
A toxicology test from the baby’s autopsy detected that a level of morphine in the child’s body could have been lethal even for an adult, according to the prosecutor.
“We make sacrifices every day for our children,” he said. “She decided she was going to have her drugs and sacrifice the health, and ultimately the life, of her child.”
Rauch Wise, Greene’s lawyer, insisted that the woman was only trying to stop permanent pain and that no mother had ever been prosecuted in the United States for killing her child through a substance transmitted in breast milk.
“She needed those meds to get up in the morning and function,”Wise said. “She was on total disability because of her pain, her fibromyalgia and all the other things wrong with her.” The lawyer stressed that losing the child had already become punishment enough for Greene.
Steven Karch, an expert witness for the defense, pointed to the fact that “no morphine-related death from breastfeeding has ever been reported in a peer-reviewed journal, and in fact the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of morphine in preference to some other narcotics for women who are nursing babies.”
He also slams the investigators for not conducting necessary genetic tests: “In short, no real forensic investigation was conducted, just an autopsy with no diagnostic findings. If no drugs had been detected, death would have been attributed to [SIDS] (sudden infant death syndrome or “cot death”).”
Karch deems that the child’s death was caused by a genetic defect. According to the expert, a strikingly similar case occurred in Toronto in 2005: the mother’s organism was producing morphine from the codeine she was taking and that was poisoning and killing her child.
Greene’s lawyer plans to appeal the conviction.