Monday, December 5, 2011

Talking Points - CONNECTIONS and Legal Struggles for Justice: Reproductive Rights - Women Refuses C-Section and Child Taken Away

The issue I wish to discuss in this blog deals with the reproductive and medical rights of a woman in New Jersey.  In general, a pregnant woman had her newborn baby removed from her as a result from her refusal to sign a preapproval document for a C-Section procedure.  The incident took place in 2006 at St. Barnabas hospital in New Jersey.  The child is still away from its mother and the parents are still trying to get their child back. 
The woman in question, known as V.M. was initially accused of child abuse and medical neglect by not signing a pre-consent form for a cesarean surgery.  As a result her baby was taken away from her right after birth.  From what I have read, the doctors were pushing for V.M. to sign a consent form for a cesarean surgery.  It was the medical opinion of the doctors that V.M. should get a cesarean surgery.  V.M. declined to sign the consent form and told the doctors that if there were complications during the birthing that she would then consent to a cesarean surgery.  In response to V.M.’s refusal to sign the form, the doctors asked for a physiological evaluation of V.M.  After finding the patient to be competent and able to make the decision, the medical staff requested a second opinion.  Before the second evaluation could take place, V.M. gave birth to a healthy baby without complication.  Even though the patient was right about not needed a cesarean surgery, they medical staff contacted the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services who then removed the child from the custody of the parents at birth.  The initial reason for taking the baby was that V.M. and her husband had endangered the baby by not signing the consent form and thus they were said to have committed medical neglect and abuse.  To make it clear, this is the initial reason why the child was removed from the custody of the parents.  Using the new reasoning that V.M. has had a past history of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the child has still been kept from the mother. 
My belief is that the initial termination of custody was morally and legally wrong and that it clearly violated the mother’s reproductive rights.  It should be the right of the mother to have a cesarean surgery or not if the health of the fetus is not in clear imminent danger, especially in a hospital (and country) with a known history of over using the procedure. The C-Section rate at St. Barnabas is 49.3% (in 2006) and the national average is about 32%.  The World Health Organization recommends that the rate should not be above 10% to 15%.  We must remember that this is also a serious and dangerous procedure that comes with its own risks.  I also believe that the use of the mother’s psychological past is insufficient reasoning to keep her from her child for so many years.   The first psychological evaluation found the mother competent enough to make informed medical decisions about her body and baby.  If she was found to be competent enough then, then what has changed?  It is unfair, immoral and unethical to use past medical records to take a child away from a mother at birth before conducting a new psychological work-up.  They should have left the child in the mother’s care until it could be confirmed that the mother was psychologically unable  to care for her child.
 I think that Marilyn Frye would argue that the rights of V.M. are being violated and that V.M. was being actively oppressed based on what was discusses in her article, “Oppression”.  One claim by the medical staff was that V.M. was being combative and resistant (among other things).  Frye discusses that oppressed people usually have to act in ways that signals docility.  If they do not then they are seen as being difficult or unpleasant.  I wonder if this is what happened in V.M.’s case.  I wonder if by refusing the doctors’ demand for her to sign the consent forms that V.M. was viewed in a negative manner.  V.M. wasn’t being sensitive or complaint like “a good mother would” and so she was turned into an enemy.  I also wonder if economic/class issues (disused in “People like Us”) or issues of privilege and power difference discusses by Allan Johnson played a role in the actions of the medical staff and the New Jersey DYFS.  In a legal document (which a link will be placed in this blog) it is mentioned that V.M. claims that she received poor treatment and that there were inappropriate comments made by several members of the medical staff related to the color of the skin of her husband (B.G.) and of her baby (J.M.G).  I don’t know what the color of the skin was or what was the color of the skin of the individuals who allegedly made inappropriate comments were, but I cannot help to wonder if there was issues of racial bias or other biases based on social or economic class (that we are not clearly seeing) could have played a role in the decisions of the medical staff and thus the DYFS and courts. 

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