If you’re expecting a baby and you want to capture the labor and delivery forever on video, you can forget about it in Washington State. What use to be common place in many hospitals in the Pacific Northwest has now become a no no. Fearing lawsuits, doctors are hesitant to allow Dad to frame Mom as she’s huffin and puffin and yellin and screaming.
John C. Nelson admits that he gets a little teary-eyed every time he sees the videotape of a close friend’s child being born by Caesarean section.
But don’t expect Nelson – an obstetrician and president of the American Medical Association – to allow any of his patients to capture all the same heartfelt and life-changing moments on videotape. Like other doctors around the country, Nelson said increasing fears that those family videotapes could one day be used in a lawsuit led him to start asking parents to limit camera use during some of their infant’s first moments.
“What once used to be really fun and warm and cozy and so forth is now a potential nail in the coffin from a liability perspective,” said Nelson, who practices in Salt Lake City and delivered babies until 2003.
The medical association doesn’t offer specific guidelines on personal videotaping of deliveries, but Nelson said ongoing concerns about medical liability has many doctors and hospitals at least cutting back on what they will allow. He said he began restricting mom and dad’s videotaping after the medical center he practiced in, LDS Hospital, started urging limitations.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that its members discuss what limitations there may be on filming the birth during a patient’s prenatal visits, so there are no surprises in the delivery room, said Larry Veltman, chair of the committee on professional liability. While doctors’ preferences still vary, he said, “Certainly the tendency is to move toward less and less ability to videotape.”
Personally, I never really “connected” with couples who wanted to videotape the birth of their children. Heck, I’ve known some to actually have the child at home, in the living room, with the ENTIRE family sitting there taking in the event. I don’t know…just something creepy about it.
But, I digress.
This issue is really larger than families missing out on 45 minutes of guttural moaning, sweating, and cursing with angle shots of 3 or 4 different bodily fluids. This is about the fear doctors have about the job they do. This is about a doctor having second thoughts about everything he does, in the clinic, over the telephone, in the operating room, or on an airplane when an emergency occurs and the flight attendant asks if a doctor is on board. The threat of litigation is very real, and it can destroy a practice.
“The doctor wants to be concerned about the clinical issue in front of him, and not have to worry about how it’s going to play on TV,” Nelson said.
Others argue, however, that that is exactly how doctors should be thinking when they deliver a baby or perform another medical procedure.
“If doctors were concerned about liability and frivolous lawsuits, they should welcome videotapes,” said David Beninger, a lawyer with Seattle-based Luvera Law Firm. “A videotape proves what happens and when it happens. There’s no more reliance on faded memories.”
Beninger said he thinks most people want to record a child’s birth for the memories, not the evidence – but argues those tapes can also come in handy if there is a dispute.
He and his client, Dylan Malone, relied on a personal videotape in a case involving Malone’s son, Ian, who was born in 1999 and died last May of pneumonia, a result of complications related to his birth.
The family eventually reached a $2 million settlement with Cascade Midwives and Birth Center in Everett. Malone said that was largely because medical records inaccurately portrayed Ian as healthy throughout the birth while the videotape showed dire complications. The medical center declined to comment.
Nope, I’m not going to get in that fight. You know, the argument about Midwives and “Birthing Centers” as opposed to the good ‘ol traditional sterile hospital where I was born. I have to wonder though. Has anyone done a study to measure the risks of having babies in odd places? Yes, yes, yes, I know…my grandparents were probably born in the family barn or in a basement or some place that was dirtier than, well, you get my drift. It didn’t hurt them right? I wonder. It does seem like there were lots of complications back then, and lots of stillborn children.
But I digress.
Although videotaping cutbacks stem from lawsuit concerns, Veltman said he hasn’t heard of insurance companies pushing doctors to stop videotaping. Gary Morse, general counsel with Seattle-based Physicians Insurance a Mutual Company, said the issue was discussed somewhat by insurers in the 1980s, when home video cameras began appearing, but his company hasn’t dealt with it since.
After his son’s birth, Malone became a staunch proponent of allowing videotapes in delivery rooms. But when his own second child, Molly, was born in a different hospital, the Malones tried to create an experience exactly opposite of their son’s birth – and that included ditching the video camera.
“I didn’t even ask about their policies,” Malone said. “I wanted a very different birth.”
The bottom line is this – frivoless lawsuits are a plague on our society, and something must be done before we get to a point where doctors won’t even touch patience anymore. They’ll simply program a computer who will do all the probing, poking and prodding.
But hey, if your doctor does end up being a computer, you’ll probably be able to give birth and live blog the contractions at the same time.