Sunday, March 14, 2004

Doctor's Orders

The case of the woman charged with murder for refusing a C-section first freaked me out; then it didn't sound so bad; then I thought about it more and decided it was still freaky.

Certainly her decision sounds unwise and even cruel. I would agree that she was wrong. But what makes it murder? She didn't do anything except allow nature to take its course. Arguably, she had a duty to act since the babies were dependent on her, but at worst, that should be involuntary manslaughter.

What worries me is how this could be applied. What if I was recommended to take a C-section as the best option for my baby, but we decided the benefits didn't outweigh the risks to me and the baby? (C-sections by no means guarantee a better outcome than vaginal birth, except in a few rare circumstances.) What if I refuse some other form of medical intervention and then something goes wrong?

The stories all contain a quote that they could find no motive other than cosmetic for the mother to act as she did. But motive is irrelevant to a murder charge; it just helps justify it in public. What if the prosecutor considered my concerns insubstantial? For example, if the C-section was not clearly necessary, I could well be influenced by the reality that getting insurance coverage for vaginal birth after cesarean is very difficult, and the desire to avoid complications in future pregnancies and deliveries. Is that insufficient reason to buck the doctor?

Or we have decided to have only a minimal number of tests, avoiding ultrasound and the like. What if it later turns out that the baby has a problem that could have been averted/proactively treated had we had more tests? Could we be liable for that?

I don't think we want a world where parents have a legal duty to follow doctor's orders. Doctors aren't any more infallible than parents. And the old saying bears repeating: Hard cases make bad law.

No comments: