Home births under fire as court case highlights family tragedy
The issue of giving birth at home once again came to the fore this week after the country's most senior midwife was found guilty of criminal negligence after overseeing a botched home birth in Prague. A baby boy was left severely brain damaged after being deprived of oxygen, and later died. The midwife denies any wrongdoing, and says the complications were unforeseen and unavoidable.
Unfortunately the birth went badly wrong; the baby boy was unable to breathe and was only revived when an ambulance was called. Despite being taken to hospital the boy suffered severe brain damage, and died earlier this year. The case attracted considerable media attention, with the Czech medical establishment lining up to condemn home births. Dr Petr Velebil is head of the perinatal programme at the country's oldest maternity hospital, Podoli, and he had this to say to Czech Television after the case was brought to court.
"The home is simply not the safest environment in which to give birth. This is why the Czech medical community tries its utmost to convince pregnant women of the benefits of giving birth in a medical facility, which is prepared and therefore equipped to deal with any potential complications. These complications are usually sudden, immediate, and they require immediate medical attention."
"We are of course convinced our client is innocent, and we sincerely hope we'll be given the chance to prove this in court. Mrs Königsmarková followed standards and procedures for home birth that were drawn up abroad, as such standards do not exist in the Czech Republic. She followed all of these required procedures to the letter. Unfortunately these 'optimal birth procedures' as they're called, contravene the standards laid down by the Czech Gynaecological Association, which are basically the same recommended medical procedures that are used in hospital births."
And this is the paradox that has led Czech home births to exist in a sort of legal no-man's land; midwives are legally permitted to deliver babies at home under the terms of an EU directive. However under Czech law, midwives must carry out home births using virtually the same conditions as that of a maternity ward, which is of course almost impossible. No wonder then that home births are so rare - only about 500 per year, and many of those were emergency deliveries, rather than planned births.
Supporters point out that babies also die in hospital deliveries, often through negligence. The Czech Republic, they say, is stuck in a post-communist paternalistic mindset, refusing to allow a practice which in western Europe is safe, popular and protected by European law.