Mothers forced to undergo surgery

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The Independent Online
A woman has no right to take her and her unborn child to destruction by refusing permission for her doctor to perform a caesarean operation.

That is the effect of a series of High Court rulings allowing the procedure to be carried out against a mother's will and showing the extent to which judges are now prepared to authorise non-consensual surgery in life or death cases.

The two most recent rulings, in July, have prompted a senior barrister to raise what she views as the unwarranted imposition of caesareans - which carry their own risks - on unrepresented mothers. Her protests will come at a childcare conference on Saturday convened by Positive Care in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the feminist women's professional group.

In one of the July cases, a woman known as W, who had a psychiatric history, repeatedly denied she was pregnant on arrival in labour at a Norwich hospital. She had already had three caesareans and her obstetrician feared that if labour continued her old scars would open, endangering her and the foetus.

In the second case on the same day in Rochdale, C's doctor believed her uterus was rupturing and that she and the baby would die. C, who had had a caesarean before but who eventually consented just prior to the issue of a court order, had insisted she would rather die than submit to another. Both women and their babies survived.

Barbara Hewson, vice-president of Association of Women Barristers, who will address the meeting, said: "Parliament has never authorised the forced detention of pregnant women for caesareans, nor... deemed that women in labour should be treated as incompetent."

Bertie Leigh, who acted for Rochdale Healthcare Trust in C's case and whose firm Hempsons has set up a hotline to help other health authorities and trusts, said that in the rare cases where a woman's womb was at risk of rupturing, "doctors are characteristically appalled and do not know what to do."

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