Mother sues over dead baby

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The Middletown Press

July 6, 2001

Middlesex Hospital and the Crescent Street OB/GYN clinic are being sued over a birth practice that has recently come under fire in the media and in

medical journals.

The suit, brought by Kathleen Duffy of Guilford, charges her doctor, Julie Flagg, Crescent Street clinic and the hospital with negligence that led to the death of her baby during birth. It was filed April 18 in the Superior Court of Ansonia/Milford.

Middlesex Hospital spokesman Brian Albert said Thursday, "The hospital provided appropriate care to Mrs. Duffy." He said it would be inappropriate to comment further on the matter because of the pending litigation.

Flagg did not respond to a phone call from the Middletown Press.

The controversial practice known as Vaginal Birth after Cesarean, or VBAC, has generated a lot of debate following the publication of a study on the procedure in the New England Journal of Medicine.

VBAC is a practice in which women who have given birth through cesarean are encouraged to deliver the next baby through the vagina. In many instances, hormones are administered to the women to induce labor.

The study showed that women who were administered some hormones were more likely to suffer a uterus rupture, which can cause the death of the baby or mother.

However, the study did say the cases of uterus rupture were very few, but one doctor, writing for the Journal, concluded that if asked by a patient what was safer for the baby, cesarean or VBAC, he would say cesarean.

VBAC is a trend that has picked up in popularity over the last 10 to 12years. Previously, women who delivered through a cesarean, in which the baby is removed from the mother's womb through surgery, were told to always deliver through cesarean after the first c-section.

Duffy and her lawyer, Michael Koskoff, held a press conference Thursday following the release of the study and an article printed in Thursday's New

York Times on the subject.

Duffy charges that on May 28, 1998, she was to give birth to her daughter Sage at Middlesex Hospital. The hospital and her doctor failed to act enough to deliver Sage through a cesarean when Duffy's uterus ruptured, a situation that can occur in women who have a VBAC delivery, Koskoff said.

In Duffy's case, doctors were unable to save her child and she herself was injured.

Koskoff said Duffy wants more people to understand the dangers of VBAC and that is why she is bringing the suit forward. She is asking for damages in excess of $15,000.

Koskoff said that Duffy's case is not unique, but is a problem that he and other lawyers have been combating through lawsuits for years in the state. "This is a dangerous practice. It's dangerous to the women, and dangerous to the babies," Koskoff said.

He said his firm is currently handling six cases in which VBAC caused either the death of a baby or permanent damage to the baby or mother.

Duffy, who had delivered her first child through a cesarean, was convinced the VBAC procedure was just as safe as a cesarean, the lawyer said. She was not told that the cesarean presented less dangers to the health of the baby.

Koskoff believes this issue has arisen through a combination of birth trends in the country and more importantly through economics.

In the 1980s, there was a big push to have women go through natural childbirth and avoid cesarean deliveries. Many books have been written on the subject, encouraging women to experience natural childbirth to create a stronger bond with their children.

Koskoff said he believes insurance companies and HMOs tapped into this push for natural childbirth and encouraged the practice of VBAC because it is cheaper than a c-section.

Typically, women who go through c-sections must remain in the hospital longer, thus driving hospital bills up. Koskoff said he believes the health system chose economics over health on this issue.

"My client didn't need to have the experience of natural childbirth. She wanted to have a healthy baby, that's all," Koskoff said.

Doctors have defended the practice, saying that VBAC came out as a way to allow women who had c-sections to experience childbirth more naturally. VBAC came about as a response to trends in the country and less out of economic concerns, according to some doctors.