The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against two Czech women seeking to challenge national legislation effectively banning home births with midwives serving as formal medical assistants. The petitioners both argued that the Czech law violated their human rights, a claim rejected by the court, and are now planning to appeal the verdict. More
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has ruled that the Czech state did not violate the rights of two mothers who complained that Czech legislation did not allow them to give birth in the home with the assistance of a midwife. The court took into consideration, in particular, that there was no European consensus on whether or not to allow home births, and that this question involved the allocation of financial resources, for example for an adequate emergency system for home births. In recent years there has been growing pressure on the Czech authorities to enable home births and some maternity hospitals now offer the possibility for mothers to give birth at the hospital with the help of a midwife and doctors on standby should the need arise.
Prague is hosting an international conference on home births, a highly controversial topic in the Czech Republic. Although births at home are officially not allowed for safety reasons, hundreds of women are opting for home deliveries and increasing pressure on lawmakers to make this an option. In response to the pressure, an amendment to the law now allows women to give birth only with the help of a midwife, although the birth must still take place in a medical institution where doctors could take over in the event of an emergency. Advocates of home births are pushing for a complete liberalization of the law which would allow women to deliver in the comfort of their own home.
Around 3,500 delegates from around the world are taking part in an International Congress of Midwives which began on Sunday and runs until Thursday. Czech participants are demanding changes to the law in connection with a large increase in the number of women wishing to give birth at home since the fall of communism; such births are permitted but not covered by health insurance. The first International Congress of Midwives was held in Prague in 1925, when the delegates were welcomed by President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.
The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday heard a case of two Czech women who complain about restrictions on home births. Judges heard arguments from attorneys of the women as well as a representative of the Czech Republic. The women filed their complaints to the court in 2011 and 2012; they were planning to give birth at home but say the Czech authorities prevented them from doing so. Their lawyer said the court should acknowledge that women’s rights in the Czech Republic are breached by denying assistance to home births. The court is expected to deliver a verdict in the case in the coming months.
The Constitutional Court has struck down a suspended prison sentence given to midwife Ivana Königsmarková in 2009 for criminal negligence in the birth of a child that died 20 months later. Originally, she received a two-year suspended sentence, a 2.7-million crown fine and was banned from working as a midwife. She has maintained her innocence and said that there was no evidence beforehand that the birth would be a complicated one. She also maintained that the trial was an attack on home births in general by the Czech medical establishment. Her sentence was reaffirmed by the appeals court and the Supreme Court last year.
The Constitutional Court made a landmark ruling on Wednesday morning, which struck down the verdicts of three previous courts on the guilt of midwife Ivana Königsmarková. A leading home birth advocate Koningsmarkova was given a suspended two-year prison sentence, a hefty fine and a ban from her profession for delivering a baby with serious neurological defects during a home birth. For proponents of more liberal birthing regulations this can mean a big step forward, but whether the decision will actually advance the debate on home births remains to be seen. More
The number of home births in the Czech Republic has increased markedly in the last two decades, the Czech News Agency reported, quoting a head doctor at a leading Prague hospital. While in 1990 only 16 babies were born at home with the assistance of a midwife, that figure had risen to 150 in 2009. The highest number occur in Prague, while the fewest take place in the Zlín region in South Moravia. Czech health insurance companies refuse to cover home births.
The Supreme Court of the Czech Republic has rejected an appeal from the head of the Midwives Union, Ivana Königsmarková, on Monday. Last year, Ms Königsmarková received a two-year suspended sentence for negligence resulting in grievous bodily harm during a home birth, and was banned from carrying out home births for five years. She was accused of not carrying out proper CPR procedures on a newborn after complications at birth. The defendant has maintained her innocence throughout the trial. Ms Königsmarková said she will take her appeal to the Constitutional Court. Home births are highly frowned upon by the Czech medical establishment, and birth assistants are usually unable to get proper license to carry out births in the home.
Current AffairsPrague court delivers landmark ruling in home births advocates’ battle with the state
A ruling on Thursday by a Prague court might lead to a breakthrough in the ongoing Czech debate about home births. While state officials and health care providers have consistently opposed the practice over safety concerns, the court decided that mothers indeed have the right to choose the place of their child’s delivery, and the state has to provide all necessary assistance. More