Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rogue OB/GYNs.

At HuffPo Bioethicist Jacob Appel summarizes the Florida case of a pregnant woman who was held in confinement against her wishes - by her doctor:

The facts as reported are strikingly straightforward. Burton, a married mother of two toddlers, contacted her obstetrician in March 2009–during her twenty-fifth week of pregnancy–when she became concerned that she might be going into premature labor. The obstetrician advised her to report to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. While at the hospital, it became apparent that Burton was not going into labor. However, Dr. Bures-Forsthoefel recommended up to fifteen weeks of bed rest for her patient. When Burton explained that she had two children at home and a job, and that full bed rest was not a viable option for her, Bures-Forsthoefel ordered her confined to a hospital room to protect the health of her fetus. The hospital and Bures-Forsthoefel then obtained an order from the Circuit Court of Leon County that mandated Burton remain in bed for the duration of her pregnancy (eg. up to fifteen weeks) and to undergo “all medical treatments” that her physicians believed were in the fetal interest. Burton was denied any opportunity to obtain a second opinion at another hospital. She was effectively held prisoner in her room for three days, at which point an emergency C-section revealed a dead fetus.

Is this where we are in the US? Women are seen as dangers to their unborn fetuses? Their individual rights can be denied if they are pregnant and a rogue doctor decides to place the rights of the fetus above those of the mother? Informed consent is meaningless? A woman's medical decisions are not hers to make but the public's and the medical professions?

At first this story is shocking. And yet, the attitude that women are unable to make sound decisions about their own fertility is old as can be. Witness the lines outside reproductive care clinics where "pro-life" activists have planted themselves to shame women, to treat them as non-persons without rights to their own bodies. Note the laws in this country that paternalize women by requiring they look at ultrasounds of a fetus before having an abortion - as if they are unaware of the workings of their own body, treated as ignorants who must be told their responsibilities, shamed by a segment of culture that works to reduce women to one sole purpose, child-bearing.

Note the laws that discriminate against women by allowing pharmacists to deny them contraception - because the pharmacist deems their own judgement above that of the woman. Count the hospitals in the US where the Catholic Church decides when a woman will be pregnant, how many children she will have, and how. From Hyde to Church to Coats to Weldon to the Bush provider refusal laws, women, particularly the poor and minority, are continually subject to the sanctions of the self-righteous - those who think they know what is best for her. Doctors, medical schools, medical professions are all taught that their decisions - based on their "conscience" are more important than those of the woman whose body is in question.

In the article, Appel note the damage to the medical profession by these rogue actors who assert their religious beliefs on women. And he recommends to all women that they have a serious talk with their OB/GYN about his or her beliefs early in their relationship:

Pregnant women and those planning pregnancies should also take away a lesson from the Samantha Burton tragedy. Ask your obstetrician directly: Is there any circumstance under which you will refuse to let me make my own medical decisions or will prevent me from leaving the hospital? That is a question no woman should ever have to ask her doctor. Unfortunately, as long as rogue OBGYNs continue to impose their values upon unsuspecting patients, it is a prudent question to ask.

We should all thank Burton for having the strength of her convictions and rights to stand up to doctors and judges who find themselves superior enough to assert their will on another's rights.

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