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Medical paternalism happens when a doctor interferes with a patient’s ability to make a decision regarding his or her healthcare. This antiquated approach to healthcare still pervades the otherwise advanced medical industry and has led to backlash from uninformed patients suffering from unforeseen injuries. One area in which medical paternalism runs rampant is in cases involving vaginal birth.
Doctors report being hesitant to discuss the risks associated with vaginal birth with their patients because they believe that the benefits of vaginal birth outweigh the risks. Vaginal birth is the only type of birth that is labelled “normal”, according to the New South Wales Ministry of Health. There, the policy does not state that women should be informed of its risks. One doctor explains that if the risks associated with vaginal birth were mentioned, many women would opt for a caesarean section. However, this is rarely in the mothers’ best interests.
Doctors have the duty to fully inform patients about the known benefits and risks of any procedure, allowing patients to give their informed consent. Patients are legally entitled to autonomy in a medical setting and doctors, no matter their opinion or expertise, may not substitute their judgment for that of the patient’s. Without knowing the risks factors of any given procedure, patients may consequently suffer injuries from a procedure they would not have consented to had they been fully informed.
Recently, an obstetrician was found to have negligently harmed a woman and her baby because she failed to inform the woman of the risks of vaginal birth despite the woman’s repeated requests for such information. One complication, called dystocia, involves highly invasive procedures to free the baby if the baby becomes trapped in the mother’s pelvis including pushing the baby’s head back into the uterus to perform an emergency cesarean section or breaking the mother’s pelvis to free the baby. The woman stated that had she been informed of these risks, she would not have agreed to vaginal birth, but would have instead elected to have a cesarean section.
In their academic research, clinicians note the risks of maternal and neonatal trauma associated with the use of forceps, including a significantly increased risk of stress incontinence, prolapse and facial injury to the baby compared to the use of no instruments or the use of a vacuum device. However, doctors are actively promoting the use of forceps and failing to inform women of these risks because forceps are used to facilitate what they consider normal (vaginal) birth.
Women should be fully informed before they go into labor so they can determine what is best for them and make their choice accordingly. Even if doctors have the best interests of their patients in mind, they may not unilaterally make decisions on behalf of those patients. Doctors who do not uphold their duty to warn and advise patients of the risks associated with a procedure may be liable for medical malpractice.
If you were not fully informed of the risks associated with your childbirth, the experienced South Jersey birth injury lawyers at Folkman Law Offices, P.C. may be able to help you obtain compensation for you and your baby’s injuries. We represent clients in South Jersey, Cherry Hill, and throughout Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia. Contact us online or call us at 856-354-9444 to schedule a free consultation.