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On Monday the 9th September 1996 at the National Disputes Centre, the Health Care Complaints Committee (HCCC), supported by the Nurses Registration Board began a complaints hearing into Homebirth practices by a prominent Sydney Homebirth midwife, Maggie Lecky-Thompson.
There are five cases in question of alleged professional misconduct. Four of which were initiated by doctors who were not even present at the births, and are being pursued against the express wishes of the parents involved. The fifth case is a second attempt by parents at bringing up a case they had previously lost against Lecky-Thompson at the Supreme Court in October 1995.
As a successful and respected midwife of over 18 years (Lecky-Thompson has delivered approximately 1,000 babies at home), and as a prominent advocate of homebirths, she has consequently become a target for politically motivated action in restricting homebirths. Homebirth International Australia describes recent events as "a blatant attempt by the medical bureaucracy to discredit and outlaw Homebirths in NSW as it has been developing over the last twenty years."
"It is part of the continual witch hunt that has been directed towards homebirths and independent midwifery from the time medical interference into women's birth started in the 17th century. This witch hunt has plagued women's right to self determination; to birth how and where and with whom they choose since Homebirths re-emerged as a women's birth option in 1968. It is now at fever pitch. The curtailing or discrediting of this prominent midwife will end Homebirths as we know it and send women's health care choices back several decades."
The attack on Homebirth reeks of hypocrisy of the worst kind, when one considers Medicine's dismal track record in delivering babies. It's high level of intervention such as inductions, epidurals, instrumental deliveries and caesarians - which by-the-way are greatly contributing to this country's blown-out health bill - can only be described as a national disgrace.
Caesarian rates in Australia have grown fourfold over the past 20 years. This country has one of the highest caesarian rates in the world - about 18 per cent of births. (1) One in every five births involve induction, the most popular medical reason given is "failure to progress", which often means failure to progress as fast as the busy obstetrician would like.
Such procedures of course carry risks. According to leading American neonatologist Dr Marsden Wagner, "Four times as many women die after a caesarian than a normal vaginal birth.... It carries the risk of death for the mother or damage to blood vessels and other organs. There are also risks for the baby since caesarians are associated with a much higher incidence of respiratory distress syndrome." (2)
Synthetic oxytocin is a popular hormone used for inducing births. If the dosage is too strong it can have disastrous consequences for mother and child. According to the manufacturer's package insert an overdose can cause: maternal hypertensive episodes; cardiac arrhythmias, uterine spasm and or titanic contraction, which can diminish the oxygen supply to the foetus; uterine rupture; subarachnoid haemorrhage (bleeding beneath the middle membrane covering the brain and spinal cord; convulsions and coma; foetal death etc. (3) Even when used as recommended it carries much risk: the more severe than normal contractions ram the unprotected head of the foetus against the cervix and body pelvis, possibly resulting in brain damage and disalignment of the parietal bones; deprivation of oxygen to the foetus, again risking brain damage; malpositioning of the foetus, which makes delivery more difficult; rupture of the uterus; cranial haemorrhage in the baby; maternal haemorrhage after delivery; caesarian sections performed because of foetal trauma caused by induced labour; and the increased need for pain-killing drugs which exposes mother and baby to the hazards they produce. (4)
Dr Wagner has said "Excess use of technology kills babies although this is something that never gets talked about." Doctors who relentlessly denigrate home births love to talk about safety risks. "How about all the babies who die in hospitals? That information is not available to us and is kept behind closed doors but if a baby dies in home birth, it is suddenly a big scandal."
A study conducted by Homebirth Australia and the National Perinatal Statistics Unit of Sydney University showed homebirth mortality rate in Australia for 1988-90 was recorded at 6.4 deaths per thousand births, compared to 11 per 1,000 for those born in hospital during the same period. (5)
The widespread damage caused by obstetricians can be estimated by the number of malpractice suits against them. The Sydney Morning Herald (29/3/93) reported that alarming rates of medical litigation and record compensation pay-outs are forcing obstetricians from continuing to practice. Some insurance premiums have skyrocketed to 1000 percent since 1984 - for obstetricians it had reached $19,950 at the Medical Defence Union. The obstetricians and gynaecologists are the highest risk category for litigation and pay-outs against all medical practitioners. In the three years to 1991, four of Australia's nine medical insurance organisations made overall pay-outs of $1.4 billion, but this would only be the tip of the iceberg, because most compensation pay-outs are settled out-of-court. (6)
The homebirth issue is not an argument about safety - its one of power and money. Homebirth is simply competition that the Medical Monopoly would rather squeeze out of existence.
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Published in the Spring 1996 issue of the CAFMR Newsletter.
Copyright 1996 by the Campaign Against Fraudulent Medical Research, www.pnc.com.au/~cafmr
This article may be copied or distributed, provided the copyright and disclaimer messages are clearly attached.
Disclaimer: This article is presented for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional or medical advice. CAFMR disclaims all liability to any person arising directly or indirectly from the use of the information provided.
1. "Cutting corners?", The Sydney Morning Herald, 5/9/94.
2. "Caesarian risks kept secret", Daily Telegraph Mirror, 6/8/92.
3. John Archer, Bad Medicine: Is the Health-Care System Letting You Down?, Simon & Schuster, Australia, 1995, pp. 206-7.
4. Robert Mendelsohn, Mal(e) Practice: How Doctors Manipulate Women, Contemporary Books, Inc., 1982, pp. 173-4.
5. John Archer, Bad Medicine, p. 200
6. "Costs of malpractice suits forcing obstetricians out", The Sydney Morning Herald, 29/3/93.
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