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State Grapples with New Birth Center Rules for Midwives—Including Posting of Medical Liability Insurance

Most Illinois birth injury lawsuits are filed against doctors, nurses, and medical facilities that make errors during traumatic births in a hospital. However, not all women give birth in traditional hospital settings. A growing minority of families decide to forgo the modern approach and have natural births performed via the use of a midwife. While some legal issues may be somewhat different depending on the agreements made between the patient and midwife, a birth injury lawsuit may still be appropriate when things go wrong following one of these natural births. Obviously the risks are just as potent when a birth takes places in one of these birth centers where midwifes aid in the delivery. In fact, certain risks are often increased because of the decision to forgo more modern medical techniques.

Recognizing the risks of these natural births, state regulators often set up clear rules that must be followed by birth centers-locations where midwives help mothers in low-risk pregnancies give birth. Our Illinois birth injury lawyers know that there is often strong disagreement about the level of regulation that should be placed on these locations. There is a balancing act that must be performed between protecting mothers and not being too restrictive such that operating the centers becomes impossible.

The Argus Leader reported last week on efforts in one state to allow birth centers and out of hospitals births for the first time. These centers are growing in popularity nationwide. There has been a 30% increase in the total birth centers created in the last decade and a half, now totaling nearly 180. According to the story, the state’s legislative committee recently ordered the department of health to rework rules so that they were less restrictive. Midwifery proponents were heralding the move as a positive step in allowing more women to have out-of-hospital births if they so chose.

When the initial regulations were proposed by the state health department, industry insiders reported dissatisfaction. There were complaints that the rules were overly restrictive such that it would have been prohibitive for a midwife to actually go out and start a birthing center. For example, the regulations required that these centers post if they had medical liability insurance, prohibit outside food being brought in for mothers, and enacted complex requirement to define what constituted a “low risk” pregnancy.

Our Illinois birth injury lawyers were surprised to learn that the requirement of publically posting information about medical malpractice liability insurance was the most contentious issue. Those opposed to the requirement claimed that the posting would be a red target on the backs of the centers encouraging former clients to sue them. Of course, this ignores the fact that consumers have a clear interest in being made aware of the possessions or lack of possession of medical liability insurance. Considering that risks may be increased in these centers, it is logical for patients to consider the insurance when deciding where to give birth. Part of the problem is that other medical facilities do not have the same requirement, and so some midwife advocates have suggested that the requirement is an underhanded tactic to make it increasingly hard to open a birthing center.

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