“But Labouring Women Aren’t Doctors”

Outcomes in pregnancy and birth will not improve if doctors are permitted to hold women down and force them to undergo medical procedures. The unnecessary stress this places on women and their babies might actually decrease safety significantly.

“But Labouring Women Aren’t Doctors”

I recently had a conversation with someone, who in all seriousness, told me that people who work in hospitals should be able to hold women down and do whatever they want to do to them during birth. It’s hugely problematic that there are still people who think like this, but I suspect that there are more people who think this, than think that women should actually be respected when they are vulnerable, and giving birth.

What I want to know is this. Does the statement, “to do whatever needs to be done” mean that the doctor who has an 80% caesarean rate, at the hospital with the 60% caesarean rate overall, have the same rights to do whatever they want, as the doctor with the 15% caesarean rate, at the hospital 200 metres down the road where the caesarean rate is 23%?

The law states very clearly that women are the ones who determine what happens to their bodies during birth, and the scientific evidence shows that both women and babies do far better under woman centred care than under surgeon led, heavily controlled conditions. In fact because of this evidence, there is much talk of strengthening the laws to protect women and their babies from aggressive practices and practitioners. However the person I was speaking to said that they didn’t think that was safe, and once again reiterated that because women aren’t doctors, they don’t know what’s best.

If laws were to go in the opposite direction, as this person wanted, would they really benefit women and babies? When we take instances like the Graeme Reeves case, the doctor currently under investigation for multiple newborn and foetal deaths at Bacchus Marsh hospital, or the case where a baby was decapitated during a forceps birth, how would the law respond if doctors are above it? Given how the multiple complaints against Graeme Reeves were ignored, it’s clear that the law is pretty disinterested as it is.

People might state that these cases are the extreme exception to the rule, however a little known fact is that of all the fields of medicine, it is gynaecology and obstetrics that has the most complaints of misconduct. And we aren’t talking about unsubstantiated complaints here, we are talking about the complaints that have been investigated and upheld.

Frighteningly, the most common outcome from a case like this, is that the surgeon is warned, moved to a different hospital, and advised to have a chaperone with them if a client will require any physical examinations. They are not required to disclose these conditions, or their record to women under their care. This is eerily similar to the thousands of incidents of child sexual abuse perpetrated by various religious leaders and institutions but very few people seem to see how problematic it is.

People in our society have such strange views of women, as if they are somehow inhuman, they believe that the only people who are qualified to make decisions for women are doctors. It is commonly believed that women are too hormonal or hysterical to make wise choices, that they put their birth experience above the safety of their babies. It is believed that the only reason women and babies ever survive birth is because of hospitals and the heroic actions of doctors.  Whilst it’s true that in many cases doctors do amazing things, and save the lives of many babies and grateful women, it’s also true that women make sound decisions during birth, even when the situation is pressing. This is why the law upholds the right of women to make decisions regarding their health, it recognises them as the most qualified decision makers when they are in possession of sound information.

People frequently believe that the work of doctors requires such a high standard of qualification that it elevates doctors to almost god like status, but doctors are humans. They make mistakes, they don’t all have a high IQ, they don’t all score the highest marks in their classes, they can’t possibly remember every single thing they learnt at med school, and they might not be reading up on current evidence, so their recommendations might well be a decade or more out of date. Doctors make mistakes, sometimes clinical and sometimes ethical, and both doctors and women have the right to know that any decisions made will be supported by the law.

If a woman is acting against medical advice, the doctor has the right to a signed document stating that she acknowledges the risks and liability, but not the right to force her to do something she is opposed to. Both women and doctors are HUMAN, and have the right to be respected as individuals, not as generalised parties that are either god like, or ignorant and selfish across the board.

Skull with stethoscope, medicine book, other medical equipment and bills
Maternity care providers who are uncomfortable with the laws should cease to practice.
License: Creative Commons CC0.

Outcomes in pregnancy and birth will not improve if doctors are permitted to hold women down and force them to undergo medical procedures. The unnecessary stress this places on women and their babies might actually decrease safety significantly. The impact of stress on babies in the womb has long been documented. The vast and overwhelming majority of women consent to intervention rapidly when the chips are down. Those who are unwilling to consent to necessary intervention are an extreme minority, and given the vast differences in approach that care providers exhibit (as evidenced by the enormously varied rates of intervention and caesarean between different doctors) the law must NOT be altered to align with the wishes of doctors, midwives, and nurses, ahead of the wishes of women. Maternity care providers who are uncomfortable with the laws should cease to practice.

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