17th June 2024
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UN body says Spain should compensate woman for ‘violence’ in C-section case

Spain should compensate a woman who was forced to undergo a caesarean (C-section) without her consent and with her arms strapped down, a United Nations committee ruled on Thursday. The committee also said that the procedure was carried out without the woman’s husband present and that she was not allowed to immediately hold her newborn boy since she was still strapped down.

The woman was ‘a victim of obstetric violence, a particular type of violence against women … which has been shown to be widespread, systematic in nature and ingrained in health system’, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) said.

The hard-hitting report states that the unnamed Spanish woman ‘went to a public hospital in Donostia (Basque Country) at 38 weeks of pregnancy because her water had broken’. It states that ‘the hospital ignored the 24-hour waiting period protocol, did not provide her with information on alternative options, and induced her labour prematurely without her consent’.

The woman ‘suffered a caesarean section, without any medical justification, while her arms were tied down and without the presence of her husband’, the report states. ‘The caesarean was performed by a group of medical residents undergoing training supervised by their tutors and without [the woman’s] prior consent’.

The UN committee also said that ‘when her baby boy was born, she could not even touch him as her arms were still strapped’. The baby was then taken away from her ‘immediately to the paediatrician, and she had no opportunity to have skin-to-skin contact with her newborn’. The woman was later diagnosed with post-partum post-traumatic stress disorder.

The woman took her case to courts in Spain but the UN committee’s report states that she ‘encountered gender stereotypes and discrimination throughout the administrative and judicial process’. It also states that ‘during the proceedings in Spain, she was told that it was the doctor who should decide whether to perform a caesarean section and that the psychological harm she had suffered was simply a matter of perception’.

The Spanish Health Ministry has declined to comment on the case, but said a draft law approved in May would help promote good childbirth practices through a series of national and international guidelines.

The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women monitors states parties’ adherence to a convention on women’s rights which to date has 189 signatories. It is made up of 23 independent human rights experts.

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