A baby girl has been kept away from her mother for almost five years after she refused to sign a form consenting to a Caesarean section – even though she did not end up needing to have the operation.
The extraordinary case began after staff at a New Jersey hospital claimed that refusal to give permission for the procedure amounted to child abuse.
The agonising decision triggered a protracted legal battle which has led to the mother being separated from her child for five years.
The woman, known only as VM, launched an appeal after authorities took her baby away from her immediately after the birth in 2006 at St Barnabas Hospital in New Jersey.
V.M. has been separated from her baby for three years in the name of “child welfare.” All because she didn’t want to pre-authorize a cesarean section that neither she nor the hospital had any reason to believe would be medically necessary, and wasn’t.
RH Reality Check reports that when V.M. showed up at the hospital planning to give birth vaginally, she was asked to sign a pre-consent form permitting a c-section should it become necessary. She refused. Had there been an unexpected complication with the pregnancy, V.M. could have consented to the procedure at that time, but she didn’t want to sign away her ability to make decisions about whether or not her baby would be sliced out of her belly. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me.
The hospital, however, disagreed. After giving birth, without complications, V.M.’s newborn was taken away from her on charges of endangering child welfare. She and her husband have been fighting for three years now to get their child back.
There are a number of problems with this decision by the hospital, starting with the fact that the only welfare endangerment you could allege at the time of V.M’s refusal was that of the fetus, since there was not yet any child. Secondly, many hospitals are trigger-happy when it comes to this surgery — this New Jersey hospital had a 50% c-section rate — which can be due to financial considerations or simple bias toward the procedure, although a c-section can have its own complications and pose issues for future pregnancies. Thirdly, there is controversy surrounding whether hospitals should even be allowed to ask for “pre-consent” from pregnant women with no signs of needing the procedure.
In 2006, a woman known only as V.M. in court documents gave birth to a baby girl, J.M.G., at a New Jersey hospital. During labor, V.M. “behaved erratically” and at some point refused to consent to a cesarean section, despite her doctor’s concerns about fetal distress. The obstetrician ordered an emergency psychiatric evaluation, which found that “V.M. was not psychotic and had the capacity for informed consent with regard to the c-section.” The staff then asked for a second opinion, but before the next psychiatrist could complete his evaluation, the baby was born vaginally. And healthy. Oops.
Nevertheless, a social worker at the hospital contacted the Department of Youth and Family Services, and J.M.G. was removed from her parents. Eventually, a judge agreed with DYFS that V.M. and B.G.’s parental rights should be terminated. Documents recently released by the apellate court say flat out that at that point: “the trial judge found that J.M.G. was an abused and neglected child due in part to her parents’ failure to cooperate with medical personnel at the time of her birth. V.M.’s refusal to consent to a c-section factored heavily into this decision.” And still, V.M. lost the appeal.