A woman in New Jersey refused a c-section during labor. She gave birth vaginally, and the child was healthy. But the baby was taken away and placed in a foster home, because the woman allegedly “abused and neglected her child” by refusing the c-section. She was also accused of behaving “erratically” — to which I can only point out that she was in labor. I hear that hurts a lot.
Apparently when women are pregnant, they give up their bodily autonomy, civil rights and right to informed consent. Louise Marie Roth pretty much covers it:
First, from a legal perspective, individuals have a right to informed consent and bodily integrity. In obstetrics, informed consent is a blurry concept since many hospitals perform obstetric procedures on laboring women without informing them of the evidence concerning those procedures or their risks. Perhaps this legal case illustrates how paternalistic hospitals can be with respect to pregnant women — assuming that the hospital staff know best and that informed consent is unnecessary. Never mind that hospitals tend to be run with organizational efficiency, rather than patient interests, in mind. In this specific case, one obstetrician who tried to convince the mother to consent to a c-section concluded that she was not psychotic and had the capacity for informed consent with regard to the c-section. It is clear within the law there is no informed consent without informed refusal, so this obstetrician’s conclusion should have made V.M.’s refusal to consent to the c-section her decision alone. If this mother is not legally permitted to refuse major abdominal surgery, then she is clearly stripped of her civil rights to informed consent.
In fact, individuals are not legally required to consent to invasive procedures even to save other individuals, including fetuses that lack full legal status. But in this case the district and appellate courts subverted a pregnant woman’s informed medical decision-making in the name of fetal rights, arguing that her refusal was a form of abuse and neglect of the child that had not yet been born. This is another dangerous precedent, along with other court-ordered cesarean cases, that will allow all pregnant women to lose their rights to bodily integrity and informed consent. It may be understandable, if not excusable, that the courts don’t understand medicine or recognize that medical judgment is fallible, but it is hard to understand how they could so fundamentally misinterpret the law, in which performing surgery on an individual without that person’s permission can constitute criminal “battery” under common law.
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