Press Call: Forced Cesarean Section Is the Newest Threat to the Personhood of Pregnant Women

Rewire joined Rinat Dray and medical professionals and legal advocates for the rights of pregnant women on a press call on Friday. Listen to a recording of the call above.

Rinat Dray, a 32-year-old mother of two, went to Staten Island University Hospital with the hope of delivering her third child vaginally after two prior cesarean surgeries. Instead, according to Ms. Dray, after several hours of labor, the attending physician told her that he would not examine her unless she agreed to have surgery. When she refused surgery, the hospital made a decision, without consultation with the hospital’s bioethics department and without engaging the hospital’s patient advocate, to deny her the right to medical decision-making and to force her to undergo the surgery. According to records in the case, the surgery was approved by the hospital’s legal department over Ms. Dray’s explicit objection. A physician noted in her medical records: “The woman has decisional capacity. I have decided to override her refusal to have a c-section.” Dray has filed suit against Staten Island University Hospital and two physicians for being forced to undergo a cesarean surgery against her will.

Forced cesarean is one among a growing number of threats to the personhood of pregnant women. While an increasing number of women like Ms. Dray seek to have a vaginal birth after cesarean surgery (VBAC), they are often pressured and sometimes forced by doctors and hospitals to undergo cesarean sections. A 2010 National Institutes of Health Consensus Statement acknowledged that women face significant barriers in finding physicians and hospital-based care that will support VBAC.  Ms. Dray’s desire to have a vaginal birth was based on her understanding of the potential risks of surgery. In fact, according to the complaint filed in the case, her bladder was punctured during the cesarean. Amid national concerns about the overuse of cesareans and increasing reports of doctors threatening their patients with the use of court orders to force surgery, this case involves a hospital’s express decision to override a patient’s medical decision.  The doctors did so without a court order and despite concluding that the patient was mentally competent to make medical decisions for herself.

Ms. Dray was joined in an audio press call by her attorneys as well as medical professionals and legal advocates for the rights of pregnant women including Élan McAllister (Executive Director of Choices in Childbirth), Prof. Mary Faith Marshall, Ph.D., FCCM (Director, Program in Biomedical Ethics, University of Virginia School of Medicine), Fara Diaz-Tello (Staff Attorney and Birth Justice project leader, National Advocates for Pregnant Women) and Dr. Katharine Morrison, MD, FACOG (Director of Buffalo WomenServices).