Woman loses home birth case in High Court

Friday 16 August 2013 22.36
Aja Teehan wanted to be assisted by a self-employed midwife at her home when she gives birth in October
Aja Teehan wanted to be assisted by a self-employed midwife at her home when she gives birth in October

An expectant mother has lost her case against a Health Service Executive decision refusing to facilitate a home birth.

Aja Teehan, a university lecturer from Co Kilkenny, had a child by caesarean section six years ago.

She wanted to be assisted by a self-employed midwife at her home in Thomastown when she gives birth to her second child, which is due in October. The HSE has refused to facilitate her application for a home birth.

Ms Teehan alleged that the HSE was operating what she called a "blanket policy" of refusing to cover home births for women who had previously had C-sections.

She claimed the Executive had unreasonably and unlawfully refused to consider her individual circumstances, and had breached her rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

The court heard she had told the HSE that she was physically fit and had no medical condition, or complications, with her pregnancy to justify the refusal.

She also submitted a medical report indicating she was at the lowest end of the scale in terms of risk estimates for expectant mothers planning a natural birth following a caesarean section.

Lawyers for the HSE told the court the Executive's policy was based on medical evidence and best practice.

The court was told there were risks associated with a natural birth after a C-section, including uterine rupture - a condition which had potentially catastrophic effects.

While Ms Teehan had a right to disagree with the HSE, she could not compel it to support a practice it did not believe was safe.

In her judgment, Ms Justice O'Malley said she considered the HSE's case to be "reasonable" and that expert witnesses on the applicant's side had conceded that a hospital delivery would be safer than a home birth.

The judge said that if something went wrong in childbirth, the consequences could be "immensely tragic in human terms, but also extremely expensive in financial terms".

She added that there had been no suggestion that Ms Teehan would waive liability in respect of any injuries that might occur during a home birth.

Ms Justice O'Malley found that the HSE was entitled to provide maternity services in such a way as to minimise the risk of uterine rupture occurring, even if the risk of that happening was small.

The issue of costs will be decided on 6 September.

Ms Teehan later said she would take her case further in the courts.

"We have to consider all avenues, people talk about the stress and effort but I'd quite happily lay down my life for my child. Why wouldn't I take on this for it."

Ms Teehan thought her case was strong enough to win but said she was not surprised with the outcome.

Speaking on RTÉ's News At One, she said: "I can't say I'm surprised, I wouldn't have been surprised by a loss either. I thought the case was so strong that there may have been a chance that there could have been a chink in the conservative defence of medical profession, unfortunately that's not the case."

Ms Teehan said she was disappointed with the Irish legal system.

"I'm very disappointed that the judge and the legal system have failed yet again to defend women's rights and parental rights."