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Marlowes Challenge Court-Ordered Cesareans

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Posted on Sun, Jan. 18, 2004

Hospital faces fight in birth dispute
A now-moot Luzerne County court order for a Caesarian section will see a challenge.

WILKES-BARRE - Concerned his case could impact other pregnant women, a Plymouth man said Friday he's working with a national reproductive rights group to challenge a court order that sought to force his wife to undergo a Caesarean section against her will.

John Marlowe said he's pressing on with the case - even though the order is moot since his wife already gave birth to an 11 pound, 9 ounce baby - because he doesn't want other couples to endure the stress they did as they battled hospital officials regarding their decision.

"It's more than my wife. What happens to the next lady that goes in there?" Marlowe said. "If they get away with this, what it's telling people across the country is a hospital has a right to do what it wants, and the woman has no rights."

Marlowe's wife, Amber, checked out against medical advice from Wilkes-Barre General Hospital on Wednesday morning after physicians there insisted she have a Caesarean section because of concerns about the fetus' weight, which was estimated at 13 pounds. She later gave birth vaginally at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton.

Unbeknownst to the Marlowes, after they left General Hospital, attorneys for Wyoming Valley Healthcare System sought a court order to gain guardianship of the fetus in case the Marlowes returned to their hospital. The order, granted without the Marlowes' knowledge, forbade them from refusing a Caesarean section if doctors there deemed it medically necessary.

Kevin McDonald, spokesman for the health-care system, said Friday the hospital stands by its decision to seek the order. "These were really unique circumstances. We did what we believed was in the best interest of the patient."

McDonald said as far as the health system is concerned the legal dispute is over.

"The injunction was only effective if she came to our hospital and we had to do a Caesarean section. Since that didn't happen, the order is moot," he said.

But Lynn Paltrow, an attorney specializing in women's reproductive rights, said the issue goes far deeper than the Marlowes.

"This is not a conflict between a pregnant woman and a fetus. It is a conflict between a pregnant woman and her fetus against the raw power of the state to impose an unnecessary surgical procedure on a woman's own body."

Paltrow, of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women in New York City, said she's working with the Marlowes to find a Pennsylvania attorney to fight Conahan's order. She said she believes the couple might also have a civil case against the hospital for violating their rights.

Marlowe said he and his wife are still considering their options and might file suit seeking monetary damages. But he said money is not the key factor motivating him.

"We're talking civil liberties issues, not suing for money," he said. "Right now you have a judge saying a hospital has the right to claim guardianship of an unborn fetus and guardianship after it is born. That's unacceptable. We need to set a precedent that a hospital cannot have higher rights than the parents."



Woman hits
hospitals' stance that she agree to C-section
By Lisa Napersky , Citizens' Voice Staff Writer 01/17/2004A Plymouth
woman who was ordered by a Luzerne County judge to consent to a
Caesarean section delivery of her baby said Friday she was appalled
by the treatment she received at two area hospitals.

While she was in labor Tuesday night, Amber Marlowe, Academy Street,
Plymouth, said she spent hours defending her right to deliver her
baby vaginally.

She and her husband, John, drove to three different hospitals before
she found a doctor who would respect her wishes.

"It was very upsetting," stated Marlow, who gave birth vaginally to a
healthy baby girl Thursday morning in Moses Taylor Hospital,
Scranton. "All this just because I didn't want an operation."

After Marlowe refused to consent to a C-section and checked herself
out of Wilkes-Barre General Hospital Wednesday morning, the hospital
took legal action against her.
Hospital workers claimed that an ultrasound indicated Marlowe's fetus
weighed 13 pounds and the lives of the mother and the baby would be
in jeopardy if the operation weren't performed.

At the request of Wyoming Valley Health Care Systems, Luzerne County
President Michael Conahan signed an order Wednesday appointing the
hospital as legal guardian for the unborn child.

Judge Conahan also ordered that the parents "are hereby temporarily
restrained from refusing to consent to a C-section delivery of their
unborn fetus if the professional medical judgment of WVHCS and the
treating obstetrician is that such a procedure is necessary."

The preliminary injunction ordering Marlowe to submit to the C-
section was delivered to her residence, but she never received the

"They kept wanting to cut me open to get the baby. I think they may
have actually sent police to our house, but we weren't home," said
Marlowe. "I kept telling them I've already had six kids, and the
biggest one weighed 12 pounds and there were no problems."

Marlowe said when she started having contractions Tuesday night, she
went to Mercy Hospital, Wilkes-Barre, because it was close to her
home. After medical personnel performed an ultrasound, Marlowe said
she was informed the baby was going to weigh more than 11 pounds and
a doctor insisted that she undergo a C-section operation, even though
there were no apparent problems.

"They told me there was no way they would let me deliver the baby
naturally because the doctor didn't want a lawsuit," said Marlowe. "I
had a friend who died during a C-section, and I was afraid to do it
that way."

Even when the couple offered to sign papers promising not to file a
lawsuit, the doctor refused, explained Marlowe. She said staff
members at Mercy Hospital called security when she told them she was

She and her husband next drove to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.
Marlowe was admitted at 10 p.m., and a second ultrasound was done.

Doctors there reached the same conclusion as those at Mercy Hospital.
They also refused to deliver the baby vaginally, claiming it was too
dangerous because of the size of the fetus.

Throughout the night, said Marlowe, nurses and doctors told
her "horror stories" about how her baby was going to be handicapped
if she didn't have the operation. She checked herself out at 11 a.m.

"I told them, forget it - I'm leaving. Then I came up here (Moses
Taylor) and had my baby the proper way," she stated. "The doctor here
never even suggested a C-section.

They did an ultrasound and blood work and continued to monitor me,
and there was no problem."
In the civil complaint filed against the Marlowes, who are referred
to as Jane and John Doe in court documents because of patient
confidentiality, plaintiffs are listed as the WVHCS and Baby Doe.

"Even in the absence of present fetal distress and even with ongoing
fetal monitoring, a vaginal delivery of this size fetus could result
in complications occurring during the delivery ... and result in
unavoidable death or serious impairment to the baby," states the
complaint. "Baby Doe, a full term viable fetus, has certain rights,
including the right to have decisions made for it, independent of its
parents, regarding its health and survival."

According to the suit, John and Amber Marlowe cited religious reasons
for not wanting to have the operation. The complaint also states that
during one of Marlowe's previous pregnancies, the baby suffered
shoulder impairment because of the size of the fetus. The couple said
neither allegation is true, and that the main reason for wanting
vaginal delivery was fear of having an operation.

Marlowe said she and her husband are contemplating filing a lawsuit
against Mercy and General hospitals for causing them distress.

©The Citizens Voice 2004


Court delivers controversy
Mom rejects C-sections; gives birth on own terms
Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) News Leader

WILKES-BARRE - A judge late Wednesday afternoon gave a local hospital permission to force a woman to deliver a baby via Caesarean section against her will.
Doctors warned the expectant mother that not having a C-section could kill her and/or her child. But against doctor's orders, Amber Marlowe left the hospital.

Hours later, Wilkes-Barre General Hospital received legal permission to become guardian of the fetus and perform the C-section if Marlowe returned to the hospital.

Marlowe never returned. She gave birth vaginally Thursday morning at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton to a baby girl, her and her husband's seventh child. Court papers said it was her seventh pregnancy in seven or eight years. The Marlowes said the mother and infant are healthy.

Attorneys for General Hospital sought the highly unusual action through a lawsuit because its doctors said Marlowe, who went to the hospital Tuesday night, adamantly refused to deliver the fetus by C-section because of "religious" beliefs.

Her refusal came after warnings by doctors that a vaginal delivery could result in death for the fetus because it was expected to weigh 13 pounds. They also were concerned with complications Marlowe had in other pregnancies.

The hospital was acting to "preserve and protect the rights of (the fetus) regarding its health and survival," the hospital's attorney, Mary G. Cummings, wrote in court papers.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Conahan late Wednesday afternoon approved the request.

Marlowe's husband, John, said the hospital made up the story, including the part about the religious beliefs and the fetus' size, after its staff was "arrogant" in trying to force Marlowe to have a C-section.

His wife was initially cleared to give a vaginal birth at General, but doctors held her at the hospital for 13 hours, telling her "horror stories" in trying to change her mind, he said.

"They just kept telling me to do a Caesarean section," Amber Marlowe said. "They were forcing me in to it."

The events began to unfold Tuesday when the Marlowes, of Academy Street in Plymouth, first went to Mercy Hospital in Wilkes-Barre to give birth.

According to Cummings' court papers, which identify the Marlowes as Jane and John Doe for confidentiality reasons:

The couple went to Mercy Hospital where the staff advised them a C-section should be performed for the protection of the mother and fetus.

The couple refused, insisting the fetus be delivered vaginally, and left the hospital.

Later, the couple went to the emergency room at General Hospital, which is part of Wyoming Valley Health Care System.

Drs. Lynne Coslett and Stephen Zeger on Tuesday and Wednesday repeatedly told the Marlowes a C-section was necessary.

But the Marlowes again refused.

"Jane Doe and John Doe have made it clear that they are adamant that they will not consent to a C-section, regardless of the danger that a vaginal delivery presents to Baby Doe," Cummings wrote. "There exists the imminent threat of irreparable harm to Baby Doe in the absence of an immediate order."

John Marlowe said the hospital's request is full of "lies," and is considering taking legal action against General Hospital.

He said his wife wanted a vaginal delivery because all of her prior six births were done that way, including births of children larger than her newborn. A friend of Amber Marlowe also died from a C-section, making her wary of the procedure, the couple said.

"It's up to the mother," said John Marlowe, who has lived in the area for just more than one year. "They insisted she have a C-section."

Amber Marlowe said she had no religious concerns about the procedure. John Marlowe said his family practices typical Christianity, and he does not belong to any radical sect.

The hospital court papers also say during a prior Marlowe birth, a fetus suffered a "shoulder dystocia." That's an obstetric emergency that can severely injure the mother and fetus.

That, John Marlowe said, is also untrue. So is the allegation that the ultrasound showed the fetus at 13 pounds, he said, adding the test showed the infant was just more than 11 pounds. The infant weighed less than 13 pounds at birth, Amber Marlowe said.

John Marlowe did not want the precise weight revealed, and he refused to reveal his or his wife's age. The couple has been married for more than nine years, John Marlowe said.

Conahan's court order gave the hospital permission to notify the Marlowes of the court order if they had returned to General Hospital. Cummings said the ruling was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.

David Weiss, a Times Leader staff writer, can be reached at 831-7397.

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