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Monday
Aug032009

Woman Ordered by State to Submit to Hospital Confinement, Cesarean

 

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In March 2009, mother of two Samantha Burton, was suffering pregnancy complications in her twenty-fifth week of pregnancy. At the state’s request, the Leon County Circuit Court ordered that Burton, who allegedly did not comply fully with recommendations regarding bed rest and smoking cessation,  be indefinitely confined against her will to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and submit to any and all medical treatments, bed rest, and other interventions, including cesarean section. In the words of the court, Burton must submit to anything that “the unborn child’s attending physician,” deemed necessary to “preserve the life and health of Samantha Burton’s unborn child.”  

Burton requested to change hospitals, but the court denied that request, stating that “such a change is not in the child’s best interest at this time.” In addition, the court approved the state’s complete control over Burton’s liberty and medical care during pregnancy on what the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida, who filed an amicus brief in support of Burton, called the “erroneous” legal premise that the ultimate welfare of the fetus was sufficient to override her constitutional rights to liberty, privacy, and autonomy.

Doctors performed an emergency cesarean on Burton after she had been confined to the hospital for at least three days by the state and found that her fetus had already died in utero. Had Burton’s pregnancy gone to term, the mother of two other children would have been held at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital for fifteen weeks.

The brief filed by the ACLU states that the court erred by placing the best interest of the fetus before the liberty and privacy rights of Burton and by failing to demonstrate the type of compelling interest needed to justify the use of involuntary confinement and forced medical treatment. It also found fault with the use of state’s authority to ensure that children receive medical treatment by forcing Burton to undergo medical treatment for the benefit of her fetus.

The ACLU contends that the state based its decision on a single medical opinion without taking into account the fallibility of that decision and demonstrated in this case that “forced medical interventions cannot guarantee the preservation of fetal life.”

Furthermore, the ACLU noted that Burton “did not agree to comply fully with recommendations regarding bed rest and smoking cessation,” which was not the type of “extraordinary” circumstance that would merit court intervention and the confinement of a person to a hospital against their will. Rather, it stated in the brief that “it is hard to imagine anything more commonplace than the inability of a mother of two to remain on continuous bed rest, or the well-documented difficulty in quitting smoking.”

According to the brief, Burton is currently appealing the Leon County Court’s decision that she was confined to a hospital against her will and submit to medical treatment for the duration of her pregnancy on the grounds that her constitutional right to refuse medical treatment was violated and constituted an “unauthorized intrusion into her fundamental rights of privacy, liberty, and bodily integrity.”

 

Further reading:

ACLU Asks Florida Court To Protect The Rights Of Pregnant Women To Refuse Medical Care

 

(Via RH Reality Check)

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Reader Comments (34)

Thank You ACLU. Thank You.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

This is the secnd instance of forced c section in Tallahassee that I've heard about; the other one was Laura Pemberton, back in the late '90's. I'm certain their stories aren't unique, even though their more widely publicized.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentera newbie doula

As much as I wish she had stopped smoking and took responsibility over her body and her baby.... it's still not right to force a cesarean on anyone. It's not ok. It's not ok to confine her to the hospital.

I agree, thank you ACLU

We know that stress kills. I wonder if anyone has considered that the stress hormones associated with being confined against the mother's will, contributed to the demise of her baby??

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdoula

If we are going to hospitalize pregnant women for not being compliant with prenatal recommendations, than we will have to build bigger units. On the flip side, it can be extremely frustrating to care for mom's who don't give two sh*ts about their fetus, who do dangerous things to themselves during pregnancy, and who may be too mentally and emotionally unstable or immature to know what they are doing. It is not pleasant to care for a mom who is a brittle diabetic and refuses to take insulin because she believes it will "hurt the baby," and we end up delivering a 12 pound baby at 34 weeks gestation, who dies 1 day later. It is not pleasant to take care of the same drug addicted mom's who deliver their upteenth drug addicted babies over and over again. It is not pleasant taking care of mom's who refuse all prenatal care because they don't trust doctors, but then run in panicked to the hospital at the last minute, yelling and cursing at the staff, and losing complete control. No, it is not pleasant.
And, as health care workers, we need to deal with it. These women choose this path for themselves and their babies. I would hope all women would want to care for themselves and the babies they plan on bringing to term, but that is a naive view of the world we live in. We can council and beg and plead, but in the end, it is the women's choice, and we will be waiting for them in the hospital with shovels to clean up the mess, but certainly not with handcuffs.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReality Rounds

Well I don't support the ACLU and disagree with the term fetus - it's a baby. Regardless, she shouldn't have been confined but I wonder what the other complications were and did they lead to the death of the baby? One still doesn't have to have a section though to deliver a baby who has died, I've know a couple women whose babies died in utereo and they delivered naturally.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I know this isn't the point of the post, but what woman WOULDN'T do everything to save the life of her child? Why would anyone NOT give up smoking as well as their other desires for a short period of time to protect their child? I would. Hands down, I would do anything to protect my kids- even if it meant I had to hang out in bed for a month (or 3) in a hospital bed.

I understand the point that it's wrong to "order" someone to be on bedrest in the hospital, but still... Something just seems wrong with this story to me.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermorgan

To Morgan: How do we know what the woman did or did not want to do? She had two other children, was she able to go on complete bed rest? Did her husband or family have the time to take off work and care for her and her children? Could their finances handle it? Was everything done to make sure this woman had the option of going on bed rest? And what about smoking? We know it is a serious addiction. Was she offered counselling? Medication? Support? Was everything done to see that she could do the best for her baby? Its completely unfair to assume that this woman just refused to do these things because she was either apathetic or uneducated. I think its more of an example of how we fail to support mothers as a society.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShotgun Mary

I'm not usually a fan of the ACLU anymore, and I don't think she should have continued smoking, but I find the results horrendous. This stuff is getting so out of hand it'd almost be comical if it weren't a real woman and baby. C-sections are not without risk! What if this woman had died as a result of their court ordered treatments? Two babies at home now would be without a mother. I don't believe in abortion personally, but legally it's allowed basically because the mother's choice/rights trumps that of the baby. So if you intend to carry this baby you're now just a womb pod without a voice because the baby's rights now trump the mother's?

This ruling better get overturned or it can easily be twisted to cover the many women that choose alternative care other than a typical OB and hospital. These rulings getting overturned still don't do enough, in that pregnancy is only finite in length and as long as a doctor or hospital can *get* the court order in the first place, even if it's overturned later, the doctor/hospital still gets enough time to 'treat' as they wish before that happens. This is just horrible.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRed66

So...in our society, a woman can actively make a choice to end her baby's life, based on the idea that it's *her* body and the fetus is separate from her...but if she decides to have the baby and passively puts its life in danger, they can force *her* body to submit to whatever someone else decides is best for the fetus. Talk about screwed up! At least be consistent.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterballerina
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