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A ‘baby murder’ controversy in Kaliningrad has pit Russia's medical professionals against federal investigators and national TV networks
The head of a maternity clinic in Kaliningrad has been jailed on charges of refusing life-saving treatment to a newborn and falsifying the infant’s death certificate, leading to a backlash from the medical community and local government. On November 5, a 23-week-pregnant Uzbek woman gave birth to a boy who weighed just 700 grams (about a pound and a half). The child had a heartbeat but couldn’t breathe on his own. He was put on a ventilator but did not survive.
Nine days later, federal investigators showed up at the maternity clinic and arrested its acting head physician, Elena Belaya, leading her out of the building in handcuffs. On November 15, she was accused of ordering her staff to deny the November 5 child “Curosurf” (a pulmonary surfactant used to treat respiratory distress syndrome in preterm infants) and falsify the baby’s death certificate to say he was a stillborn. Russian national television networks soon picked up the story, characterizing Belaya as a bloodthirsty baby murderer.
Medical officials and associations throughout Kaliningrad and across Russia have rallied to Belaya’s defense, arguing that she adhered to standard procedures, and pointing out that the Investigative Committee’s charges are nonsensical. For example, Belaya allegedly withheld the medicine because it was too expensive, but Curosurf is not an expensive drug, and the maternity clinic’s supply is not running low. Furthermore, the child born on November 5 actually received a dose of Curosurf, and simply did not live long enough to receive a second dose. As for tampering with the death certificate, doctors have pointed out that postnatal stillbirth is the correct designation for the baby’s death, given that it was born but never breathed independently.
So what happens now? On November 20, Kaliningrad’s district attorney challenged Belaya’s pretrial detention, asking an appellate court to release her from jail. A day later, the governor’s office made the same request. When asked what Belaya’s future is at her maternity clinic, representatives for the center told Meduza that they can’t comment on the situation without the Health Ministry’s permission.
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