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Delivery Room Dilemma: Should Parents Be Allowed To Document Birth?

This person was obviously allowed to take pictures.

Laurie Shifler recently welcomed her eighth child into the world at Meritus Medical Center in Hagertown, MD. She was forced to do so without any documentation of that welcome. Shifler was so outraged that her husband wasn’t allowed to take pictures or film the event that she started an online petition — one which hundreds of people have signed.

Though Shifler’s husband was allowed to take pictures of their daughter a scant 30 seconds after the birth, that wasn’t the point. “It’s about our rights…” said the disappointed mother. “Who can tell me I can take a picture or not take a picture of my own flesh and blood?”

Hospitals. That’s who. Which begs the question. Is such prohibition a legitimate policy or an invasion of civil liberties?

That’s the heart of the issue covered by Katharine Q. Seelye in a piece she wrote yesterday for the New York Times. Patients may scream rights, but the hospitals don’t necessarily see it that way. To them, it’s more about health and safety of both baby and Mama. Privacy concerns also play a role in policies which prohibit documentation. Social media makes many a health care professional a mere mouse click away from unwanted exposure.

But is all that just a bunch of hot air? Are hospitals really striving for safety and privacy, or are they simply trying to cover their liable behinds? After all, a video taken during a botched medical procedure could certainly make a malpractice case a lot easier to settle. Such was the case in 2007 when a birth video taken by an Illinois father captured a nurse-midwife using excessive force which resulted in a permanent shoulder injury to the baby.

Whether it’s a safety issue, or a liability concern, the topic is coming up more frequently than ever before. Mike Matray, editor of a Chicago-based newsletter called the Medical Liability Monitor said “I have certainly heard this issue discussed more often than I ever have previously. And it’s certainly true that some risk managers in hospitals are advising doctors to stop allowing video in the delivery room.”

Not all hospitals are doing that, however. Many not only allow documentation of birth, but even encourage it. Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston began allowing birth photography and videography in 2008. Dr. Robert L. Barbieri, who is the chairman of Brigham’s department of obstetrics and gynecology told the Times: “Our hope is that the family will film it, and it will lead to a closer bonding and a feeling of joy and success.”

There are some restrictions. The device must be handheld with its own internal light source such that the delivery room is not littered with tripods and fancy flash apparatuses. But virtually every cell phone meets that description which means pretty much anyone who feels so compelled can document the birth of their child at Brigham. But what about the liability issue? Dr. Barbieri has a refreshing answer for that very question. “We’re trying to be as transparent as we can. If something goes wrong, we try to explain immediately what happened. A video is not inconsistent with the goal of trying to be transparent.”

I’ve only been present at one birth, and it was via C-section. I’m squeamish, and as a result, I wasn’t even certain I’d view from the proceedings from above the curtain. Though I don’t recall making the actual decision, I must have been brave enough to go for the unencumbered view, because I distinctly remember seeing each of the triplets’ first breaths.

But I can’t imagine wanting to film it. Especially if it were a vaginal birth. Personal thought here: I think so many people get wrapped up in documenting things as they happen that their experience is compromised. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big documenter. I’ve written a memoir for crying out loud. But I like to feel the event, then document it.

But regardless of how I prefer to document things, I don’t see anything in the world wrong with a couple wanting to capture the birth of their child on film or video, so long as such an effort doesn’t endanger or compromise anyone.

The chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Meritus Medical Center, Dr. William C. Hamilton obviously disagrees. He tells the New York Times: “I openly admit to my co-workers that I practice defensive medicine.” Hamilton “takes offense” at the notion of having “to be videoed to prove that I’m providing good care.”

I guess my stance is this: If everyone’s doing the good job I’m certain they’re doing, what’s the big deal?

What do you think?

Image: stock.xchng

John Cave Osborne’s personal blog.
John Cave Osborne’s book website.

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