By BILL MADDEN
University of Western Sydney
The ongoing and sometimes emotive debate about risks and rewards of giving birth in hospital or at home is nothing new. What is new is the attention being given to the legal rights and responsibilities of parents and health practitioners.
Consider this recent news: South Australian police have announced criminal investigations of the deaths of two babies in home-birth deliveries. Detectives are said to be closely examining evidence given by witnesses during an earlier inquest to determine if perjury was committed or evidence was withheld or concealed. Charges, including manslaughter, may be laid.
This is a highly unusual development.
As a general rule, few health practitioners are subject to criminal charges in Australia, although the number has perhaps been growing in recent years. The imprisonment of Dr James Peters in Victoria is a recent, albeit unusual, example.
Australia has not yet seen the prosecution of a midwife or doctor following a home birth – though we have seen cases come before disciplinary tribunals, coroners’ courts if the child has died, or civil courts if the child or mother is said to have suffered injury for want of reasonable care.
So how do parents wanting home births and their health-care providers now navigate the legal landscape?