Forced Caesarean in Waterford

pregnant woman

On 9th March 2013  a pregnant woman, referred to as Mother A, was taken to court by Waterford General Hospital in a bid to force her to have a caesarean surgery against her will. The evidence was one sided, based on an affidavit containing one doctors opinion and backed up by one of his colleagues in the same hospital. The information given on the affidavit was not evidence based fact but merely one doctors opinion, an opinion which is not shared by many other doctors.

There is no doubt about it that Caesarean is a wonderful life saving surgery, however like any other kind of surgery it carries risks and therefore should only be used where absolutely necessary. The WHO guidelines state that a safe Caesarean rate in any country should be well below 15%.  Currently the rate in Ireland is close to 30% and rising.  While Ireland has some of the finest obstetric surgeons in the world with minimal risk, natural vaginal birth is still safer in most cases even for those women who’ve had a previous Caesarean.

The woman in this case was attempting to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean) and was exercising her right to informed choice.  The case was taken at an emergency sitting of the High Court at the request of Waterford Regional Hospital.  The woman was given no opportunity to be heard or defend herself. The only evidence that was heard was that of the two doctors from the hospital.  Just before a ruling was made a call came from the woman’s lawyer to say that she had conceded.

This was unjust and a direct breach of her human right to bodily integrity as recognised by European and international law. In Ireland the right to bodily integrity is disregarded in the case of pregnant women because of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution (40.3.3) which was inserted in 1983 to prevent abortion from being legalised.  Because of  The Amendment every pregnant woman’s human right to bodily integrity is overridden. Her body is a charge of the state and the state gets to decide how she is treated and what happens to her while she is pregnant and during birth.

The death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who died in a Galway hospital in October 2012 and caused outrage throughout Ireland and India was also linked to the 8th Amendment.  The investigation into the case is ongoing.  It appeared that the doctors were afraid to act or acted the way they did because of the legal implications of  The 8th Amendment.  When things like this happen many people blame the doctors and the hospitals when in fact their hands are tied; it is the system and the law that needs to change.

Clearly the 8th Amendment is presenting problems for women and their doctors which have nothing to do with abortion.  It is  not a pregnant women’s issue, its an issue for every citizen of Ireland.  It will not go away on its own, the people of Ireland need to deal with it because if  they don’t, there will be more cases like this in the future.  In order for things to change, the government will have to legislate or hold a referendum so that every pregnant woman in Ireland feels safe, has autonomy over her body and being fully informed, is allowed to choose what is best for her and her baby.

copyright Carmel O’Dwyer 2013