On April 4, 2018, a mid-level New York appeals court ruled against Rinat Dray, reminding us of the enormous challenges women face when they seek redress for obstetric violence through the court system.
In this case Ms. Dray had gone to Staten Island University Hospital to deliver her third child. When she exercised her right to medical decision-making and refused cesarean surgery, the hospital simply overruled her. Her physician wrote in her medical records: "The woman has decisional capacity. I have decided to override her refusal to have a c-section." Following a secret hospital policy that purports to authorize doctors to subject pregnant women to forced surgery and to do so without a court order, doctors operated on Ms. Dray. This was a traumatizing experience and she suffered a significant injury to her bladder during the surgery.
Because the surgery was carried out by a private hospital, the only way Ms. Dray could seek justice was by filing a malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and two physicians. The hospital has vigorously defended its actions and succeeded in getting most of Ms. Dray’s claims dismissed at the trial court level.
Unfortunately, the appellate court’s decision affirms the lower court’s shocking ruling that doctors may substitute their decisions for those of pregnant patients. The lower court decision states, “The court thus finds that the state interest in the well-being of a viable fetus is sufficient to override a mother’s objection to medical treatment, at least where there is a viable full term fetus and the intervention presents no serious risk to the mother’s well-being.” The appeals court ruling also eliminated other legal grounds for challenging the hospital’s clear violation of Ms Dray’s civil and human rights.
While disappointing, these rulings from New York’s lower courts were not surprising. Pregnancy Justice hopes that the 40 organizations we represented as amicus along with many others will be part of a massive effort to work to achieve justice for Ms. Dray and ultimately ensure that New York law clearly recognize the right to bodily integrity and decision making for all patients, including those who are pregnant.