The right of women and mothers to make the decisions they feel are best for themselves and their children is one that should be important to all of us. This is especially true when it comes to pregnancy and delivery. One New York mother claims that her right to make decisions about her own child’s birth was taken from her when her doctor forced her to have a C-section against her wishes.
Rinat Dray has filed a lawsuit accusing Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) of using an internal hospital policy to permit doctors to perform a cesarean section on her in 2011, even though it went against her demands.
According to Dray, she had already undergone two C-sections and, with her third child on the way, wanted a natural delivery. The mother claims that a large part of the reason she chose SIUH for her delivery was because she’d heard that the facility supports VBACs (vaginal birth after cesarean). It wasn’t until she actually went into labor that Dray began to feel pressure from her doctor to abandon her delivery plans.
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Dray says her doctor was especially forceful. “I don’t have all day for you,” she claims to remember him saying. “If you don’t let me do a cesarean section, the state is going to take your baby away.”
The mother says she begged for more time to consider her choices but the doctor had already given orders to the rest of the staff to take her to an operating room. From there, they delivered her son via C-section — an operation that, Dray says, caused permanent bladder damage and traumatized her mentally.
“I was psychologically distraught and physically injured,” she wrote in an affidavit obtained by the Guardian. “In our community, there are many large families, and we hoped to have the same joy … I wish to have more children, but I fear getting pregnant again.”
While it certainly seems unethical, Dray’s doctor was allowed to perform her C-section against her wishes due to a hospital policy. At SIUH, doctors are permitted to perform procedures and surgeries on pregnant women without their consent if they have gotten several doctors to agree that the procedure has a “reasonable possibility of significant benefit” for the woman’s fetus that also happens to “outweigh the possible risks to the woman.”
While an expert witness in Dray’s lawsuit claims that the woman’s medical records show nothing to indicate that a C-section was necessary for the safety of her or her fetus, the hospital claims otherwise. SIUH alleges that Dray’s forced C-section prevented a uterine rupture that would have placed her son’s life at “an immediate risk of death,” and that their decision most likely aided in saving the child’s life. They also claim that Dray was made aware of these risks and was given 34 hours to attempt to deliver her son vaginally.
Still, Michael Bast, Dray’s attorney, is arguing that the doctor’s decision to perform the C-section was wrong and outright illegal due to the fact that “a patient in a New York hospital has an absolute legal right to refuse treatment.”
Bast stressed his belief that SIUH’s policy directly impedes the rights of mothers. “I don’t think [the policy] is legal,” he told the Guardian. “I don’t think it’s ethical.”
Unfortunately, Rinat Dray isn’t the first woman to bring attention to these kinds of policies. In 2014, a woman named Jennifer Goodall says she was forced by the Bayfront Health Port Charlotte hospital in Florida to choose between undergoing a cesarean against her wishes or being reported by hospital officials to child welfare services. In its coverage of the story, Rewire discovered that at least six other women in Florida claim to have been presented with the same threats by hospitals.
In addition to SIUH, the Guardian reports other hospitals seem to have policies that allow for pregnant women to have their rights rolled over by doctors. The University of Texas Medical Branch, for instance, has a policy that calls for medical staff to honor a patient’s refusal of medical treatment, unless, of course, that patient is an expectant mother. It explicitly states that doctors should consult the legal department if a patient “is pregnant with a viable fetus, and the refusal of treatment endangers the fetus.”
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The Guardian does note that policies like the ones at SIHU and UTMB “[appear] to be unusual.” But that obviously doesn’t mean they don’t exist. What happened with Rinat Dray and Jennifer Goodall — and possibly countless other women who’ve yet to speak out — are an important reminder to all of us of the importance of conducting thorough research on doctors and hospitals and understanding our rights in the delivery room.
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