Oregon-focused Study Highlights Dangers Surrounding Home Birth

A harrowing story in the magazine Pacific Standard highlights how loosely regulated midwife-supervised births often are, and the tragic consequences that can result. As the article’s sub-head notes: “in 30 states, Certified Professional Midwives are licensed to practice medicine with virtually no medical training.” This, in turn, can lead to serious injuries to children and even, as in this case, to deaths.

The article focuses on the experience of a Nevada couple whose baby died a few minutes after being born. As it lays out in detail, the warning signs about this particular pregnancy were clear for any trained professional to see. The problem was that by hiring a midwife in a state with particularly lax regulation the parents were left getting advice from someone fundamentally unqualified. “Had (the baby) been born in a hospital under the care of a nurse-midwife or physician, he almost certainly would have lived,” the magazine concludes.

The article goes on to note that it was only after matters had gone too far that the parents discovered that the ‘supervising physician’ listed by the midwife had never met her, and that the woman in question had moved to Nevada to evade a license suspension in California.

This story is particularly relevant here in Oregon because, as the article notes, “in states like Oregon and Washington, out-of-hospital births comprise up to six percent of births statewide,” compared with a national figure of only two percent. Yet even as they increase in popularity questions over safety persist. The magazine reports that an academic study published in the New England Journal of Medicine drawing on 80,000 Oregon births in 2012-13 “showed that planned home births had a higher likelihood of neonatal seizures and carried twice the risk of neonatal death than did in-hospital births.”

As an Oregon and Washington attorney with a particular focus on cases involving injuries to children and wrongful death (the case outlined in the article is currently the subject of a wrongful death suit) I hope that readers will take the time to look over the linked article in detail. As it makes clear, there are a number of different types of midwife – some have extensive medical training while others have virtually none. It is critical for any couple considering a home birth to educate themselves on the distinctions among practitioners and the pros and cons of different birthing scenarios.


Pacific Standard: When Home Birth Goes Wrong

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