Medicine
8:16 am
Wed October 23, 2013

High Rate of C-Sections Cited as "an Epidemic"

Credit Salim Fadhley / Creative Commons

One out of every three women gives birth by Cesarean-section in the United States today. That's up from one in five women in 1996, and one in 20 women in 1970. In a new book, Cut It Out, Trinity College Professor Theresa Morris calls this an "epidemic." 

"We know that it hasn't corresponded with better health outcomes."
Theresa Morris

Morris told WNPR's Where We Live that there's no evidence that the rise in the rate of C-sections produces better outcomes for newborns. “We know that it hasn’t corresponded with better health outcomes," she said. "Babies are 2.4 times more likely to die in a C-section birth than a vaginal birth, but the risk is still small.”

While some C-sections are necessary to prevent lifelong disability or death in newborns, OB-GYN Dr. Peter Doelger said doctors and hospitals are protecting themselves by following protocols based a fear of litigation. "So you’re stuck with this situation where we’re doing things, not based on science," he said. The increase in C-sections is "really based on protecting the institution and ourselves. And, you can’t blame them. Getting sued is a horrible thing for the physician, a horrible thing for the nurse, and a horrible thing for the institution."

The Harvard School of Public Health has proposed changes to the system that would allow physicians to admit mistakes and fairly compensate families for bad outcomes in childbirth. This could reduce the high cost of malpractice claims and insurance.