Friday, June 20, 2008

8 homebirth deaths on MDC so far this year

Another homebirth death has been reported on MDC. That makes at least 8 homebirth deaths reported in the past 6 months. In addition, there have been at least 2 cases of profound anoxic brain damage that occurred at homebirth and resulted in babies with significant disabilities.

We know from US government statistics that homebirth increases the rate of neonatal death to double or triple the death rate for hospital birth with an MD or nurse midwife. We also know that, for a variety of technical reasons, the US government statistics almost certainly undercount the rate of homebirth death. However, the steady, unvarying progression of one homebirth death after another on MDC illustrates the human toll more vividly than any table of statistics.

What is it going to take for homebirth advocates to realize that they have been mislead, misinformed and lied to? Homebirth increases the risk of neonatal death. There is no question about this. The only people who have not gotten the message (or prefer to ignore the message) are homebirth advocates themselves.

It is important that women contemplating homebirth understand that homebirth leads to the preventable deaaths of babies, far in excess of any preventable deaths in the hospital. It is also important that women contemplating homebirth understand that reading and talking to other homebirth advocates does NOT mean that you are educating yourself. Homebirth advocates, either because they do not understand, or because they are deliberately hiding information, will not tell women are the real risks.

Women in general, and homebirth advocates in particular, must insist that MANA (the MIdwives Alliance of North America) release the safety statistics that they have been hiding. MANA is sitting on what is probably the largest database of homebirth statistics in the world. It probably contains 30,000 homebirths or more. MANA has PUBLICALLY offered the statistics to those who can prove that they will use them for the "advancement of midwifery". Even then, recipients of the data must sign a legal non-disclosure agreement. The public is not allowed to see the 7 years of safety statistics. Presumably, giving women information on the safety of homebirth is not going to "advance" homebirth midwifery, so the data remains hidden.

I suspect that the folks at MANA have come to feel that they have no choice. The safety data is probably so appalling, the risk of neonatal death is probably so high, that MANA must keep this information suppressed. I have a public plea for MANA:

To the Director of Research at MANA,

Please release your safety statistics to the general public. Please put the needs of babies and mothers ahead of the needs of your organization. If you are in possession of data that shows homebirth to dramatically increase the risk of neonatal death, it is unethical for you to withhold it.

If you release the statistics now, you may be able to prevent some of these avoidable neonatal deaths. If you wait, we will find out anyway. The US government has begun collecting statistics on homebirth, and the first set already show that homebirth increases the rate of neonatal death. A research organization in the UK is currently conducting a large scale study of homebirth in the UK with the results to be announced within the next 1-2 years. We are going to find out the truth. Do what you can to reduce deaths at homebirth but sharing what you know now.


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