For those who haven't stayed up all night checking to see if mom's ready to push, a VBAC is a Vaginal Birth After a C-section. During a Caesarian, besides cutting through mommy's belly, mommy's uterus gets cut as well. When a woman has another child, the worry is that since the uterus has already been cut before, the spot of healing isn't as structurally sound as the original uterine wall, thus the pressure placed on the uterine wall during subsequent pregnancies would then result in uterine rupture, and the need for emergent surgery. Emergent surgeries carry a multitude of greater risks than elective procedures.
But then some studies cited in this NPR story mention that the actual rate of uterine rupture in VBACs isn't that large, but when a uterine rupture DOES occur during a VBAC, outcomes are comparably terrible. This lead ACOG to recommend that adequate surgical faculty be available when a woman was attempting a VBAC. The problem arises when smaller hospitals simply don't have the resources to ensure those adequate surgical backups are at hand, and hospitals then ban VBACs because they simply can't afford to keep a full back up team on call.
Which creates the interesting public health versus personal autonomy dilemma we've all come to know and love. Women absolutely have a right to attempt a VBAC (and yes, "attempt" is the correct terminology) with a fairly low threshold for proceeding to a repeat caesarian should complications arise. And hospitals have a right to not offer services they simply can't afford to offer when medically acceptable alternatives exist. "Medically acceptable" and "personally acceptable" are, of course, not always in agreement.
Where I've trained, the VBAC was always an option, mostly because the hospital is equipped with the staff to handle any complication that could arise because patient volume and the high-risk patient population justify their use. On a population level, the risk is astronomical. On a personal level, the risk is miniscule.
Of course, the naturalist spin is that obstetricians are evil bastards who want to cut so they can go home and get some sleep so they'll have time to wake up early enough to spend their hefty salaries. Actually, obstetricians, like other physicians, don't like the idea of folks dying during an emergency from a partially preventable incident.
The woman in the NPR story gives the most revealing quote, however. She is rightfully upset that she is being forced to have a VBAC. When presented with the rationale for why this is so, she replies:
"That's what they hospital is there for, to handle emergencies. And so, in that respect, the policy never made sense to me."No, emergency rooms are there to handle emergencies, as long as by "handle," you mean do the best that anyone can to stabilize an unstable situation, recognizing that some unstable situations simply cannot be stabilized, and should be avoided if possible.
Hospitals exist to provide inpatient medical care following complicated medical algorithms in which physicians and patients take action to minimize the risks associated with illness and treatment. If a particular hospital can't handle a particular risk, it shouldn't try to do so. It should refer to a tertiary care center, and it should be blatantly honest with its patients about local limitations.
We don't send burn victims or trauma victims to any old hospital and expect that hospital to be staffed to handle those emergencies. We have regional burn centers and a tiered-trauma centers so that patients can receive quality care, and our society can afford to provide that quality care.
A woman has every right to demand an attempt at a vaginal delivery after a caesarian section for a prior pregnancy. Heck, I imagine if I were a woman on my second pregnancy after having a C-section the first time, I would almost certainly demand a VBAC. However, no hospital can be expected to offer a service it simply can't afford to offer. If I want the VBAC, I have to go find a facility that does offer that service, since I'm probably unwilling to spend the extra zillion dollars required to keep sufficient surgical staff available during my delivery. And my current providers have an obligation to help me find that facility.
For the most part, Starbucks has an obligation to give you precisely what you want, because coffee isn't dangerous, and they can charge you whatever that coffee is worth to them.
For the most part, your medical provider has an obligation to give you precisely what you want, as long as what you want is reasonably safe, economically viable, and consistent with what can comfortably be called standard of care. For example, elective abortions and emergency contraception meet each of those criteria, and thus each woman has a right to receive them. In some contexts, a VBAC doesn't meet those criteria (according to ACOG... that's certainly up for further debate). Thus, the provider's obligation is limited to directing the patient to a context in which the patient's preferences do meet those criteria.
Update: The Onion offers the proper supplement to this story: