A woman named Rinat Dray has filed suit against the Staten Island University Hospital, alleging a doctor forced her to undergo a C-section against her wishes in 2011.
In the lawsuit, Dray claims she begged for more time to deliver naturally, but a doctor was able to override her wishes without consulting anyone else due to “an internal policy permitting doctors to overrule a pregnant woman’s medical decisions,” reports The Guardian. Dray was in labor with her third child, and had had two previous caesareans, the last of which resulted in an eight-month recovery. She chose SIUH specifically because of their generally good reputation for women with her medical history, in hopes she would avoid the circumstances of another C-section.
Dray was in labor for 34 hours, and says that doctors pressured her to have the C-section over issues of time, without explaining that there was any danger to the child:
“I don’t have all day for you,” she recalled her doctor saying. “If you don’t let me do a caesarean section, the state is going to take your baby away.” (The hospital declined to comment on whether her doctor made this statement.)
Dray didn’t want to hurt her child, but she didn’t think the doctors were giving her a chance to have a VBAC. “You had two before, why not have another one?” she claims one said. She doesn’t remember them explaining that her baby was in danger.
The hospital states that Dray’s medical records indicate that the doctor did thoroughly explain the medical dangers of continuing with her birth plan. But the conflict isn’t just over whether or not the hospital sufficiently communicated with Dray, but over what right a patient has to refuse treatment when it might effect a fetus.
In 2015, a judge in a preliminary hearing ruled against Dray, referring to New York’s state ban against abortion after 24 weeks. Hers is the first case of its kind to be tried in New York, though appellate courts in Illinois and DC have ruled against a hospital’s right to give a woman a C-section against her will.
SIUH’s policy reads that there are circumstances in which a doctor may decide that the “potential benefits to the fetus of medically indicated treatment may justify using the means necessary to override a maternal refusal of the treatment.”
Those circumstances are met if there is a risk of serious harm to the fetus without the treatment, the fetus is viable, the risks to the woman are “relatively small”, the benefits for the fetus “significantly outweigh” the potential risks to the woman, and the doctor has made “reasonable efforts to persuade the pregnant woman to change her mind”.
Dray’s lawyer, Michael Bast, says that SIUH’s policy left too many maybes to be ethically implemented (the hospital refused to say if the policy remains in place):
“One of the things that catches my eye about this hospital’s protocols is how nebulous they are, how loaded with opinion and moral judgment, how squishy-soft they are,” Bast said. “They’re written with all these sort-ofs and probablies and qualifiers and most-likelies. You can’t deprive somebody of their constitutional rights based on, ‘I think so, probably.’”
Court papers show Dray claims the experience was “frightening and degrading” and that she had wanted to have more children but now feared getting pregnant again. She said she cried as she was wheeled into the operating room.
The hospital doesn’t deny that Dray had the surgery against her will, but maintains it likely saved the baby’s life. They do deny that she was threatened into the procedure or that the doctor was rude, writing in legal filings “even assuming that he was ‘rude’ it is not clear what injury Mrs Dray suffered because of his ‘threats’ and rudeness.”