Hold hospitals and licensed care providers accountable for violations of informed consent and abuse imposed on laboring women.
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"Dr. A came into the room and after two pushes he had scissors in his hands and told the nurse that he was going to perform as episiotomy. I said why? … I pushed two more times and he was going to cut and I said “No, Don’t Cut Me”. . . . So then after he yelled at me he cut my Vagina twelve times."
The statement above is from a letter sent to a California hospital from Kelly*, a first-time mom who endured a forced episiotomy (enlargement of the vagina with scissors or scalpel) at the birth of her son in 2013. The incident was recorded on video and can be seen here: http://youtu.be/lCfXxtoAN-I
Kelly’s experience is not an isolated incident. The authors of the national Listening to Mothers II Survey (2006) said, “[T]he great majority of mothers who had experienced episiotomy (73%) stated that they had not had a choice in this decision.”
Since the beginning of August, Improving Birth has received hundreds of photos, messages, comments, and stories from women from across the country about the abuse and trauma they have experienced in maternity care. During the birth of her son in 2013, Kelly endured what many women have described through #breakthesilence photos this month: coercion, manipulation, bullying, and a total disregard of informed consent—preceding poor care that created health complications. For Kelly, this ended in a traumatic, forced episiotomy, a recurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and need for further treatment of the cuts made to her vaginal area.
Kelly told us that when she hand-delivered her complaint six months ago, she spoke with the hospital’s Director of Women’s Services for 45 minutes about what had happened. She says never received a response, even after inquiring several times about what was being done or what the next steps were. After it became clear she was not going to receive a response to her letter, Kelly tried to find a lawyer to help her bring a claim for a forced procedure. She received several denials from lawyers who expressed sympathy, but were unable to see the value in a case where there were no permanent damages or deaths. Improving Birth and Human Rights in Childbirth also tried to help Kelly find a lawyer in California, without success.
For women violated in childbirth, there does not appear to be any meaningful process for recourse or enforcement—even when their rights to informed consent and refusal were disregarded and/or they believe that assault and battery occurred.
We urge you, Ms. Harris, to learn more about Kelly's story, and watch the video that clearly documents the violation of her most basic right to refuse an unnecessary surgical procedure. Furthermore, I ask that you meet personally with a representative from Improving Birth to discuss this and strategies for holding hospitals and licensed care providers accountable for violations of informed consent and abuse imposed on laboring women.
Thank you for your attention.
Mothers and those who care for us, advocating for evidence-based maternity care and humanity in childbirth
* Not her real name
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