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What autonomy?

Jesus Fucking Christ. This is a link to a press release by the ACLU about a filing an amicus brief in a case where a pregnant mother of two was having complications with her pregnancy. Her doctor recommended bed rest. She objected saying that there was no way that she could do that with two small children, the doctor went to court and obtained an order that confined the woman to the hospital. They wouldn't even let her switch hospitals or get a second opinion. She miscarried a few days in.

From the amicus brief:
At stake in this case are two related components of the fundamental constitutional right of privacy guaranteed by the Florida Constitution: the right of every adult person to make an informed decision to refuse medical treatment, and the right of women to continue their pregnancies without fear of state intrusion on their bodily integrity and autonomy. In violation of these rights, in March 2009, the State succeeded in completely depriving Samantha Burton, a mother of two who was suffering pregnancy complications in her 25th week of pregnancy, of her physical liberty and medical decision-making authority for the remainder of her pregnancy.

At the State’s request, the Circuit Court, Leon County, ordered Ms. Burton to be indefinitely confined, which had her pregnancy gone to term would have been up to fifteen weeks, to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and to submit, against her will, to any and all medical treatments, restrictions to bed rest, and other interventions, including cesarean section delivery, that in the words of the court, “the unborn child’s attending physician,” deemed necessary to “preserve the life and health of Samantha Burton’s unborn child.” (Appellant’s Ex. D, at 1-2.) The court further ordered that “Ms. Burton’s request to change hospitals is denied as such a change is not in the child’s best interest at this time.” (Id. at 3.) The court approved the State’s wholesale control over Ms. Burton’s liberty and medical care during pregnancy on the erroneous legal premise that the “ultimate welfare” of the fetus is the “controlling factor” and was sufficient to override her constitutional rights to liberty, privacy, and autonomy. (Id. at 1.) After at least three days of this state-compelled confinement and management of Ms. Burton’s pregnancy, doctors performed an emergency cesarean section on Ms. Burton and discovered that her fetus had already died in utero. Thereafter, she was released from the hospital. (Appellant’s Ex. E, at 1; Ex. F, at 1.)
I imagnie that the issues in this case are moot, now that the mother is out of the hosptial. But this is downright outrageous on a host of levels. There's another case decided recently in New Jersey, where a mother who declined a ceasarian section while in active labor has had her parental rights terminated. The baby was born during the dispute with the health care practitioners about the c-section, but soon thereafter the social workers from the hospital sicced the Division of Youth and Family Services on the parents and that agency initiated termination of parental rights after fiding out a little more about the parents. The appellate judge writing the opinion went out of their way to find that the Superior Court of New Jersey’s decision a few weeks ago is not based on the defendant’s refusal of a cesarean, but on “other substantial additional evidence of abuse and neglect that supported the ultimate findings.” But the refusal of c-section started the ball rolling on this case. In this particular case, the a psych consult found that the woman refusing the c-section was competent, but there were admittedly a lot of other factors that made the issue fuzzy.

Still, it scares the bejesus out of me, a woman whose pregnancies will be high-risk no matter how well or poorly they go, that legal trends in the last few months indicate that I have absolutely no autonomy over my physical self when I'm pregnant. The case in Florida scares me more than the case in New Jersey, as the judge in that case appears to have ascribed a whole host of rights on both the state and the unborn child. One hopes that an appellate court will right this legal wrong, but the damage was done, and it's clear that there are a lot of lower court judges out there that don't trust women to make decisions about their bodies and value the unborn over their citizenry.


( 6 comments — Say something )
Aug. 5th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC)
The real travesty here is the way the husband's property rights in both cases were so clearly ignored. Why did the state step in and then take charge? Shouldn't the doctor have consulted with the husband first to make sure that HE didn't want his wife confined to the hospital? After all, the husband, not the state, is the ultimate authority over a woman's body.




Aug. 5th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
I didn't decide not to have kids over this sort of thing, but the loss of autonomy involved in pregnancy makes me panic. I'm not sorry I made sure I never have to go through something like that.
Aug. 5th, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but these are hardly recent legal trends; Cynthia Daniels At Women's Expense is an eye-opening read in that respect. 'Twas fun to asign it to students here. It's why, no matter how wanted our pregnancies, we will not be going to a Catholic hospital...
Aug. 5th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
One of the worst things about this (and I emphasize *one*, since I'm pissed beyond belief that the fetus was assigned its own doctor, who I imagine was not putting the mother's well-being on priority; to say nothing at all about unlawfully imprisoning a woman because of a pregnancy) is that it would make me very cautious about seeking medical help during a pregnancy, for fear of something like this happening.

This reminds me a bit about a case I read about where a couple went to the hospital, and the doctors told the woman that she needed a c-section. She disagreed, and the doctors told her that too bad, she was about to get one. She and her husband fled the hospital, and went to another. The police had been called, and were waiting at the second hospital. The couple fled again down the back staircase, and finally went to a third hospital, where the woman had a natural birth with no problems, other then that they had had to be basically on the lam for all those hours because refusing doctor's advice suddenly becomes criminal when you're a pregnant woman.
Aug. 5th, 2009 11:18 pm (UTC)
the other side of the coin
i had a severely high risk pregnancy. thank gd, i had only one that was categorized as such.

i had 3 small children at the time, aged 2-7, had a full time job and very big financial and familial responsibilities.

my doctor also told me that if i did not go on complete bed rest (walking to the bathroom was a stretch of his instructions) he would put me in the hospital and leave me there until my due date, 3 months hence. i believed him. when i didn't, i had bleeding and that scared the hell out of me.

what got me to listen to him, beyond the scary bleeding, was the fact that HE was the medical professional. i trusted him to keep me and my baby medically safe. i chose to use him. i chose to listen to him, and now my son is 7. if i hadn't, this child of mine would have died as well.

and i guess my other question is whether the mother knew that the complications would endanger the life of her unborn child, whether she trusted her doctor and ultimately, how does a parent choose between the children already living in her house and the one not yet born?
Aug. 6th, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
That is scary and infuriating and it makes me glad I'm an ACLU member.

One of the things that this makes clear is to know your doctor, your doctor's partners and to know the hospital that your doctor belongs to--because asking your doctor about how they would treat you during complications, how they would listen to your concerns and wishes is vitally important when choosing them.

Grill your OB-GYN and if you're ever referred to a practice that specializes in high risk pregnancies, grill them too.

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