Saturday, November 29, 2008

No epidurals in Poland

According to RH Reality Check, the government of Poland plans to stop paying for labor epidurals. The article quotes Polish Ministry of Health Director Ewa Kopacz:
Kopacz, in response to the letter of the Polish Gynecological Society, which on behalf of women appealed to the Ministry to refund anesthetization, said that the state budget cannot afford to ensure free anesthetization during childbirth to all Polish women. "Childbirth is a pure physiological process and we, women, were created by nature in such a way as to run certain things in their natural way, therefore to have childbirth run in its natural way with no medicine and anesthetization," said the Minister. According to Kopacz, if anesthetization were provided for free, then hospitals would have to ensure that the services of anesthesiologists are guaranteed for female patients to a much broader extent than it is currently. And there are not enough anesthesiologists in Poland.

Will "natural" childbirth advocates rush to praise Poland for this innovation? That's unlikely once they learn that this is only the latest effort of the Polish government to control women's bodies for their own purposes. An earlier article in RH Reality Check describes Kopacz' plan to register all pregnancies in Poland:
If a woman participating in the program does not attend medical checks as previously agreed, it will be the responsibility of a midwife to establish contact with her, Minister Kopacz emphasized.

"If we find out that a woman registered in the system is not yet pregnant before her pregnancy due date, it could mean that she has had a miscarriage or she has terminated her pregnancy," said Jakub Gołąb, a spokesman of the Ministry. "That way, we shall receive information about the scope of abortion underground in Poland." Gołąb claimed that the fight against underground or illegal abortion will be an indirect consequence of introducing the program. He could not say whether doctors would be obliged to report to the Ministry and submit all data related to women who declared they had undergone an abortion. We do know that all doctors will be given instructions by the Ministry, according to which - after confirming a woman's pregnancy - they will be obliged to record it in a special register.
In other words, the decision of the Polish government to deprive women of choice in regard to pain relief in labor is of a piece with the government decision to deprive women of choice in regard to pregnancy.

I, for one, don't find that surprising. The government of Poland may invoke financial reasons to deny women epidurals in labor, but the decision rests on the premise that others can and should control what a women does to her body. They believe that they are entitled to make that decision about epidurals, as well as about abortion. Similarly, "natural" childbirth advocates wish to deny or limit access to epidurals because they believe that they know better than any individual woman what she should do to her body. Ultimately, the decision to discourage or penalize epidural use invokes the same reasoning, the idea that others know better than a woman herself.

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