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Should obstetric mortality be an inalienable right?

BACKGROUND: Obstetricians often times find themselves in a conflict of right and duty with their patients, when these patients refuse recommended treatment. On the one hand, the obstetrician, aiming to fulfil the duty of care, recommends a treatment in the best interest of the woman. The woman, on the other hand, exercising her right of self-determination and autonomy, declines the recommended treatment.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: A search was conducted for literature, articles and case reports on the subject on PubMed/MEDLINE and Google Scholar using the keywords: medical ethics, medical law, obstetric mortality, maternal medicine, foetal medicine, patient autonomy, informed consent, right to life and right to liberty.

RESULTS: Opinions have historically differed on whether maternal or foetal rights should be deferred to in situations where pregnant women refuse obstetric interventions. So also have legal decisions on the issue. The general consensus is, however, to respect a woman's refusal of recommended medical treatment, in deference to her right of self-determination and autonomy. The obstetric outcomes in such instances are however, often times, unfavourable.

CONCLUSION: The ethics of patient care in the face of conflicting rights deserves renewed examination and discourse.

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