Are Doctors Performing more C-Sections Due to Fear of Malpractice Suits?Jun 18, 2014
Even when a vaginal delivery is possible and sometimes safer, some doctors are choosing to perform cesarean sections to avoid a potential medical malpractice lawsuit, Desert News reports. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), obstetricians are faced with more lawsuits and pay higher insurance premiums than nearly any other medical specialty, except for neurosurgeons. In an effort to avoid legal liability, some doctors choose to perform a C-section instead of vaginal delivery, which reportedly infringes on a mother’s rights and can put her at risk.
In a New York Post article, Naomi Schafer Riley wrote that “there’s universal agreement in the medical community that too many C-sections are taking place, but the fact is that doctors don’t have much choice.”
If obstetricians’ malpractice insurance premiums were lowered by $10,000, it would lead to “approximately 1,600 more VBACs per year, 3,600 fewer primary cesarean sections, and 6,000 fewer cesarean sections overall,” a study by NIH found. These estimations were based on statistics from 2003.
An article on the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) website shows that there is an increasing ratio of C-section births. In the 1970s, 5 percent of all births were performed through C-sections compared to 31 percent in 2007, the article said. Sometimes repeat C-sections are sometimes necessary, but a vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) “avoids major abdominal surgery, lowers a woman’s risk of hemorrhage and infection, and shortens postpartum recovery,”
Louise Marie Roth, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, said on the website KevinMD that as the number of C-sections is rising, there has not been a similar rise in malpractice suits. Roth states that the fear of litigation itself it what causes many hospitals to implement strict policies limiting the number of VBACs performed. “Moreover, these fears do not justify subjecting millions of women to unnecessary surgery, which violates medical ethics and pregnant women’s human rights.” she states.
Both VBACs and C-sections have risks. With VBACs, the most common risk is uterine ruptures. This occurs in 1 out of 500 women who attempt labor, ACOG says. However, the procedure is mostly successful for 60 to 80 percent of women who are eligible candidates.
ACOG issued guidelines in 2010 that would allow more VBACs in hospitals if the mother chooses. However, the threat of a lawsuit would still be an issue for many doctors. To counteract this, ACOG included a clause that lets doctors send their patients to a different physician if they are not comfortable performing a VBAC.