ELECTRONIC FETAL MONITORING:  A BLATANT DISREGARD OF MEDICAL ETHICS

Prominent medical malpractice attorney Thomas P. Sartwelle and neurologist James C. Johnston, MD, JD, published a new article on cerebral palsy and electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) in the journal Clinical Ethics, co-authored with renowned medical ethicist Professor Berna Arda, and neurologist Dr. Mehila Zebenigus.  

This article represents the latest in an ongoing series by these authors who have related publications in the Journal of Child Neurology; Neurologic Clinics; Surgery Journal; Maternal Health, Neonatology and Perinatology; Journal of Pediatric Care; Journal of Maternal, Fetal and Neonatal Medicine; Medical Law International; Journal of Childhood and Developmental Disorders; and several other journals and book chapters.  These articles may be accessed on ResearchGate.net. In this particular Clinical Ethics article, the authors discuss the use of EFM without informed consent which represents a blatant disregard of patient autonomy.

An abstract summary highlights the content:  A half century ago electronic fetal monitoring was rushed into clinical use with the promise that the secrets of fetal heart rate decelerations had been discovered and that the newly discovered knowledge would prevent cerebral palsy with just in time cesarean sections (C-sections) preventing babies from experiencing asphyxia, which was thought to be the primary cause of cerebral palsy. In the years since electronic fetal monitoring’s debut, it has been discovered that asphyxia is a rare cause of cerebral palsy. At the same time electronic fetal monitoring use increased to 85% of all labors, the C-section rate increased to 33% without an attributable decrease in the rate of cerebral palsy. What went wrong with electronic fetal monitoring?

The answer lies in a new analysis of the physiologic theories concerning fetal heart rate decelerations, demonstrating that the earlier electronic fetal monitoring theories were wrong. This revelation is only the latest evidence that electronic fetal monitoring use today is harming mothers and babies with useless C-sections. Yet electronic fetal monitoring use continues unabated. Why? This article explores the complex answers and bioethical concerns, through a review of the new evidence underlying fetal heart rate decelerations in labor.

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