When it comes to parenting and giving birth, every mom has her own idea of how she'd like to do it — whether that means breastfeeding, using attachment parenting, giving birth at home in the bathtub, or pre-scheduling a Cesarean section. Most parents are pretty attached to their plans, which is why one mom's story of being forced to have a C-section has gone viral in parenting communities. For pregnant women, it also raises a concern: could the same thing happen to you? Can a hospital force you to have a C-section?
It's no wonder that mom Rinat Dray, who was allegedly forced to have a C-section when she gave birth to her third child in 2011, wrote that the experience left her "psychologically distraught," according to an affidavit obtained by The Guardian. Dray is still caught up in a lawsuit against the hospital whose doctors allegedly operated on her without her consent, a practice that was carried out thanks to the hospital's internal policy — one that only came to public light as part of the lawsuit.
As it turns out, the Staten Island University Hospital where Dray gave birth allegedly allows doctors to override women's requests in emergencies where a fetus' life might be in danger. Romper reached out to SIUH for comment, but did not hear back immediately.
According to The Guardian, a copy of the policy — dated 2008 — read:
In some circumstances, the significance of the potential benefits to the fetus of medically indicated treatment may justify using the means necessary to override a maternal refusal of the treatment.
But SIUH's policy isn't based on existing laws — or even standard practices. In fact, the debate on the appropriateness of forced C-sections has been going on long enough that Boston researchers compiled an entire study on it, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2012. "A woman has the constitutional right to refuse unwanted medical procedures and uphold her right to bodily integrity, self-determination, and privacy," the researchers wrote. Of course, for as long as a fetus is still inside a woman, any operation carried out by doctors for the fetus' safety or health also need to be carried out on the mother. And legally, people can refuse any treatment they'd like, as long as they're competent and understand the medical consequences, according to Verywell.
"A patient in a New York hospital has an absolute legal right to refuse treatment," Dray's attorney, Michael Bast, told The Guardian. "I don’t think [the policy] is legal. I don’t think it’s ethical."
However, waiving a woman's bodily autonomy in the interest of the fetus inside her is something that happens frequently — in both laws and hospitals. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Supreme Court ruled back in 1973 that the state has an interest in protecting fetuses' lives after viability (i.e., the point in which fetuses can live outside of their mothers' wombs), which has allowed states to outlaw third trimester abortion.
That same interest has extended to pregnant women's delivery preferences. Another mom's doctor allegedly threatened her with a police pick-up if she did not come in for a C-section in 2013, according to Alternet, while another mother was allegedly held against her will in a hospital until she delivered. In one infamous case, a pregnant woman with cancer reportedly wasn't given the chemotherapy treatment she requested (and needed) out of concern for her fetus' life.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, those instances all signify a breach of individuals' constitutional rights. In a piece on coercive C-sections, the ACLU wrote:
Neither the law nor medical ethics compel a person to permit a significant intrusion upon his or her bodily integrity — for example, a donation of bone marrow or an organ — for the benefit of another person's health. Since a sick child cannot claim the right to such assistance from a parent, it stands to reason that a fetus cannot have more rights than a person already born.
Yes, previous studies have found that there's a higher risk of adverse perinatal outcomes — including higher infant mortality rates — for women who refuse treatment recommended by their doctors. However, that means doctors should be working with patients to explain the risks and benefits to undergoing (or refusing) a procedure, not moving forward with it regardless of a patient's desires.
So can a hospital legally force someone to have a C-section? Technically, a person should be able to legally refuse any treatment they do not want carried out on their bodies. However, the reality of many pregnant women in the United States today seems to prove that that constitutional right simply doesn't always apply to them.
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