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Oregon Hospital Settles Water Birth Lawsuit

gavel_stethoscopeLegacy Emmanuel Medical Center and a Portland-area family have agreed to an out-of-court settlement to resolve the birth injury lawsuit. The parents had filed the lawsuit in 2015, in which they demanded compensatory damages of $36 million for their son’s cerebral palsy.

The lawsuit alleged that the boy suffered brain damage as a result of the water birth, which reportedly deprived his brain of oxygen for an extended period of time.

The details of the settlement arrangement have not been disclosed.

Failure to warn of water birth hazards

The Oregon parents filed their lawsuit in the Multnomah County Circuit Court, claiming that the defendants failed to warn them of the possible risks of water births. In addition to demanding $36 million in compensation for their son’s injuries, the parents asked that the defendants be prohibited from offering water births going forward, with the exception of water births for clinical trials. The lawsuit also demanded that the hospital cease its advertising of the reported benefits of water birthing.

When announcing the settlement deal, a spokesperson for the hospital acknowledged that the hospital has not made any alterations to its policies or procedures regarding water birthing. When Legacy Good Samaritan added water births as an option in its obstetrics wing in 2014, the chief of Legacy Women’s Health Services, Dr. Duncan Neilson, said, “Families are able to enjoy a serene, home-like experience with the added peace of mind that skilled physicians and board-certified nurse midwives are just a few steps away.”

About water births

According to the birth injury lawsuit, water births were found to be unsafe and unreasonably dangerous in 2004 by the American Academy of Pediatrics – a well-respected authority on pediatric health. The following year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement to the effect that evidence was lacking to establish the safety of water births.

As the term suggests, a water birth is the act of giving birth in a shallow tub of warm water. The intention of water births is to reduce the stress of the mother during labor and delivery. Proponents of the practice claim that water births are also gentler for newborns. However, obstetrics specialists do acknowledge that some risks exist.

Among them is the risk of the baby inhaling water. This is a rare occurrence since babies do not generally take their first breaths until they encounter air. However, it may occur in cases of twisting of the umbilical cord. Another risk is that the umbilical cord could snap when the baby is brought up to the surface.

As every mother knows all too well, labor and delivery are not picture-perfect moments. During delivery, anatomic changes can facilitate the spontaneous expulsion of feces. When this occurs during a water birth, the water becomes contaminated. This increases the risk of the newborn contracting an infection. Other possible risks of water births include meconium aspiration, pneumonia, and drowning.

Parents’ allegations

In addition to failing to warn them of the risks of water births, the Portland-area family claims that the healthcare workers at the defendant hospital failed to deliver the child in a timely manner and failed to perform an emergency C-section when it was allegedly indicated.

They further allege that attending staff failed to resuscitate the child, have an obstetrician on duty when indicated, have properly trained midwives and nurses, and monitor the fetal heart rate appropriately.