“Electronic Fetal Monitoring, Cerebral Palsy, and Medical Ethics”

A Consultant Neurologist in private practice, Dr. James C Johnston holds an MD from the University of Texas Health Science Center, is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and an Attorney and Counselor at Law. Dr. James C Johnston is also an accomplished clinical researcher and medical author.

Among Dr. James C Johnston’s numerous peer-reviewed articles on cerebral palsy and electronic fetal monitoring, he published “Electronic Fetal Monitoring, Cerebral Palsy, and Medical Ethics: Nonsense of a High Order” with coauthors Berna Arda and Thomas P Sartwelle. This article appeared on May 2, 1017 in the medical law, health governance, and bioethics journal Medical Law International.

Electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) is employed to monitor the heart activity of unborn babies during the labor process. The inventors of EFM saw great benefits for the prevention of cerebral palsy (CP), believing that the technology could predict CP and allow physicians the time to prevent CP by ordering immediate C-sections.

“Electronic Fetal Monitoring, Cerebral Palsy, and Medical Ethics” demonstrates that EFM has done nothing to combat CP since the technology became the standard of care almost half a century ago. Furthermore, the article describes how EFM harms mothers and babies alike and discusses how physicians relying on EFM violate the fundamental bioethical principles of autonomy, beneficence, and nonmaleficence.

James C. Johnston, MD, JD and his colleagues have also published an article in the 2018 Surgery Journal highlighting the failed arguments of a typical EFM advocate. This article, “Continuous Electronic Fetal Monitoring During Labor: A Critique and Reply to Contemporary Proponents” is freely available in the open access journal or through the following link on Researchgate.net:


The Medical Law International article is also open access and available through Researchgate.net under Dr. James C. Johnston: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316693326_Electronic_fetal_monitoring_cerebral_palsy_medical_ethics_Nonsense_of_a_high_order.


Electronic Fetal Monitoring and CP


Dr. James C. Johnston is the founding partner of Global Neurology and Director of the non-profit organization Global NeuroCare. As a board-certified neurologist with thirty years of experience, Dr. James C. Johnston has authored over one hundred peer reviewed journal articles, papers and book chapters on various topics related to neurology and global health including cerebral palsy (CP).

The high rate of CP in developing nations has led many of these regions to seek electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) as a means of reducing perinatal mortality and morbidity. However, EFM is an ineffective modality with a 99% false positive rate, and does not predict cerebral palsy, acidemia, neonatal neurological injury, stillbirths or neonatal encephalopathy. It does increase the C-section rate and is a significant source of harm to mothers and babies.

Despite 50 years of continuous use of EFM, the cerebral palsy rate and rate of other neurological birth related maladies remains unchanged. Continuous EFM should not be used in normal pregnancies, especially in developing regions where it will waste money that is so desperately needed for prenatal and post-partum care for mothers and babies, and add another layer of undesirable morbidity and mortality to an already critical situation.

Dr. James C. Johnston and his colleagues have published a number of peer reviewed articles concerning EFM and CP. They have discussed CP litigation in the Journal of Child Neurology; ethical concerns related to EFM in Maternal Health, Neonatology and Perinatology; review of the Task Force failure to address this problem in J Maternal Fetal and Neonatal Medicine; the history of EFM and medical training for EFM in separate articles in the Surgery Journal; and some of the legal and ethical concerns in Medical Law International.

J of Child Neurology: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4431995/

Maternal Health, Neonatology and Perinatology: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5697350/

J Maternal, Fetal and Neonatal Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26067269

Surgery Journal: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5530627/

Surgery Journal: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553489/

Medical Law International: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0968533217704883

These and related articles are also available through Researchgate.net at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/James_Johnston6.

Fetal Monitoring and Cerebral Palsy

An accomplished neurologist and attorney, Dr. James C. Johnston has published extensively on medical malpractice litigation. Dr. James C. Johnston co-authored a paper discussing cerebral palsy litigation and electronic fetal monitoring. It was published in the 2014 Journal of Child Neurology.

Electronic fetal monitoring, used for over four decades after its introduction without any clinical trials, has repeatedly proven clinically ineffectual, with a 99% false positive prediction of fetal distress, thereby increasing C-section rates with resultant harm to mothers and newborns alike. It has not affected the incidence of cerebral palsy, perhaps unsurprising when one considers the vast majority of cases develop before labor.

Nevertheless, electronic fetal monitoring today remains the most common obstretrical procedure, even as evidence against its efficacy countinues to mount. It is the foundation for the continuing cerebral palsy birth injury litigation crisis, increasing malpractice costs and even driving skilled physicians away from the delivery room. Fetal monitoring also compels obstetricians to commit daily ethical breaches, ignoring the principles of informed consent and non-maleficence or ‘do no harm.’

Thomas P. Sartwelle and Dr. James C. Johnston propose a straightforward solution that would change the standard of care, link electronic fetal monitoring to the exclusionary doctrine recognized by all the world’s courts – Daubert – and end cerebral palsy litigation.