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Does a forced C-section constitute medical malpractice?

Recently, a woman filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against a New York hospital and several of its doctors, alleging that she was forced to undergo a cesarean section against her will. This case is just one example of the ongoing national debate over C-sections and the rights of pregnant women during labor and delivery.

According to the lawsuit, the woman wanted to deliver her third child naturally despite having two previous C-sections. After laboring for several hours, she claims that the hospital’s Director of Obstetrics and Internal Fetal Medicine ordered a C-section against her wishes. In fact, hospital records include a handwritten and signed note in which the doctor wrote “I have decided to override her refusal to have a C-section.” The operation was performed, and the baby was delivered safely. He is now a healthy three-year-old.

Despite the positive outcome, the woman is claiming injury from the unwanted C-section. Specifically, she said that her bladder was cut during the procedure, causing her to suffer lasting injury. But perhaps more significantly, she says that the hospital’s refusal to cooperate with her request for a natural birth violated her rights by “improperly substituting their judgment for that of the mother.”

But does forcing a woman to undergo a C-section constitute medical malpractice? That’s not entirely clear. Generally, there needs to be some sort of injury or tangible harm for a personal injury lawsuit of any kind to succeed. So it is likely that the bladder injury will propel this case forward. But it is certainly an interesting issue, and one that will likely develop further as the debate over C-sections continues.

Source: Staten Island Advance, “Staten Island University Hospital sued over C-section, report says,” Maura Grunlund, May 19, 2014

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