In March 2009, Samantha Burton, 29, went to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital while experiencing signs of pre-term labor while 25 weeks pregnant.
Her doctors prescribed 15 weeks of bed rest, but Burton explained that was impossible: She had two small children and a job. She then asked for a second opinion. She got one, but it wasn’t from a physician.
Burton’s doctor came back into her room with an attorney in tow and handed her a phone. She spoke to Leon Circuit Judge C. Cooper, who — without reviewing her medical records or even allowing her to speak to a legal advocate — ordered her to stay where she was and submit to “any and all medical treatments” her doctor’s deemed necessary. Burton asked to change hospitals, but was told it wasn’t in the best interest of her child.
Those treatments included an emergency c-section three days later, where Burton’s baby was delivered stillborn.
Burton sued the state of Florida for violating her constitutional rights but lost. She’s in court appealing that decision this month, not to be rewarded compensation, but so that what happened to her won’t happen again. “The entire experience was horrible and I am still very upset about it,” Burton told the St. Petersburg Times through her lawyer. “I hope nobody else has to go through what I went through.”
Florida authorities are arguing that their decision was based on maintaining the status quo, to keep Burton in the hospital for a few days, until they could figure out how to best treat her pregnancy complications. But Burton’s lawyer says that leaving Burton herself out of that equation was a mistake. “If you apply the best interest of the child standard, the woman becomes nothing more than a fetal incubator owned by the state of Florida,” Abrams told the Washington Post.
The case has advocates of civil and women’s rights asking the question: If Burton’s appeal is denied, what kind of precedent has been set? At the Daily Kos, the ACLU wrote:
Being pregnant does not mean that you lose the basic right to make decisions about your own health care. In a free society, each of us has the liberty to conduct our lives according to what we believe is best for ourselves and our families. Though we may disagree with the health decisions of some, we do not force people into medical care, or in the case of Burton, into confinement in a hospital.
Will doctors intervene legally, then, when a pregnant women refuses to stop smoking — as was the case with Burton? Decides not to take her folic acid? Rides without her seat belt?
It’s a question that will be answered in court soon, but I’m curious to hear what you think: At what point, if ever, does a pregnant woman’s body cease to be her own? And what do you think the outcome of Burton’s case should be?
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