The United States takes pride in being exceptional, often going in a different direction from much of the world. Historically, that has been a good thing, with the United States granting freedoms and opportunities that other countries did not. But in recent years, the United States has set itself a part from most of the world in a less desirable way: maternal mortality. While the rate of women dying in childbirth has decreased in most of the world's countries, it has risen in the U.S., one of the most prosperous nations in the world. Why are more American women dying in childbirth?
According to data from UNICEF, global maternal mortality declined by 44 percent in just 25 years, from 1990 to 2015. This is a remarkable achievement in public health. Unfortunately, the U.S. was one of the few countries in the world, and the only so-called developed country, in which the maternal mortality rate has risen. The maternal mortality rate in 2015 was 26.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. This may sound like a relatively low number, but compare that number with 9 in Germany, 5.5 in Australia, and 3.8 in Finland—or even with the U.S. number in 1990, which was around 17.
Not only are more U.S. women dying of pregnancy-related complications than in any other developed country, but the United States is the only one in which the number is rising. Why is that, and what should pregnant American women know?
National Public Radio (NPR) and Pro Publica, an independent, nonprofit source for investigative journalism, joined forces to explore maternal mortality and its causes.
Their findings included a lack of uniformity in hospital protocols to address complications mothers undergo in pregnancy and childbirth. This allows complications to "slip through the cracks" at a time when they are still treatable, and may allow them to advance to the point where they become fatal.
Many American hospitals boast of their state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care units (NICU), and these facilities do save the lives of many premature infants who could not have otherwise survived. The NPR/ProPublica investigation discovered, however, that even hospitals with NICUs tended not to be well-prepared for emergencies involving the health of the mother. The investigation also noted that while there are state and federal block grants of funding earmarked for maternal and child health, only six percent of that money is actually devoted to mothers' health issues. Even women with good insurance sometimes have trouble accessing the care they need due to the fragmented nature of our health care system in this country.
NPR and ProPublica also found that, astoundingly, at least some doctors choosing to specialize in maternal-fetal medicine were able to successfully complete their training in this specialty without setting foot inside a labor and delivery (L&D) unit.
When women die in childbirth, or as a result of complications from pregnancy or childbirth, families are devastated. What should have been the most joyous time of their lives turns into shock, grief, and anxiety for the future. A child or children lose a mother, their father loses his partner and co-parent. In addition to the emotional loss, there is typically financial stress on what has now become a one-parent family.
Unfortunately, there is no way to restore what has been taken away by an unexpected maternal death. Some maternal deaths are unavoidable, or at least are not attributable to fault on the part of the mother's medical care team. Sometimes, though, a mother dies because her doctors or nurses were not well-trained enough to spot trouble before it was too late, or because they were not diligent enough to do so. In those cases, there may be a cause of action for medical malpractice.
If you have lost a spouse or partner to complications from pregnancy or childbirth, you may feel too overwhelmed to pursue legal action, especially with a newborn to care for. Unfortunately, you have only a limited time to initiate a malpractice case. You may not, at this early stage, be able to anticipate what this terrible loss will cost you in years to come, and by the time you realize it, it may be far too late to make a claim.
If possible, make the time for a consultation with an experienced and ethical Oregon medical malpractice attorney. An attorney with experience in these cases will be able to help you assess whether there is even a case worth pursuing. If there is, the attorney will manage legal matters so that you can focus on what is really important—healing from your loss and caring for your family.
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The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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