Hungarian Government to Control Home Births

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The arrest of a midwife for attending three home births with a fatal outcome has created a storm of controversy in Hungary. The name of Ágnes Geréb is well-known to the Hungarian public. Several investigations are pending against her, since between 2000 and 2007, three babies died during births she attended. As a consequence, Ms Geréb was disqualified by the court for a while but never stopped attending home births and continued her work as a midwife. Now she is facing another investigation for a recent case which nearly had a tragic end.

The case has put in focus the regulation of home births in Hungary, an issue which has for twenty years awaited laws that could be satisfactory and serve the protection of mothers and babies. Five months after its taking up office, the new Government has started consultations with all parties concerned to regulate home births.

... Ágnes Geréb was arrested in early October and then placed under pre-trial detention as another baby had nearly died at birth attended by her at a birth centre ... Following a series of home births in 2003, 2006 and 2007, the prosecutor's office pressed charges for negligent malpractice causing permanent disability and death. Ágnes Geréb was indicted on three counts, the second defendant on two counts, and another three defendants on one count each. In the first case, Ms Geréb gave an injection to a mother delivering twins at Christmas 2003 as she found the heart beats of the second foetus too weak. The baby born soon afterwards was not breathing and lacked oxygen until the ambulance arrived, thus sustained irreversible brain damage and died six months later ... In the second case, a foetus was trapped in the birth canal in September 2007. The attempts to free the baby failed and the baby died. The third case happened in October 2007, when a woman in labour developed complications and was rushed to hospital for being drained of blood.

... According to the ruling of the Court, ten years ago a healthy baby suffered serious brain damage because Ms Geréb, attending the birth, failed to clean the respiratory tract. In 2003 the midwife volunteered to attend a twin birth that was considered as risky, and one of the babies suffered irreversible damage due to lack of oxygen, and died at the age of six months. In 2007 Ágnes Geréb has been disqualified to practise the profession of obstetrician-gynaecologist for 3 years by a final court ruling, because in the so-called Birth Centre she led, a new-born baby got trapped in the birth canal and ... the baby was stillborn ... According to the conclusions of medical experts in all of these cases Ágnes Geréb has committed serious professional errors in delivering the babies.

The cases were united and first tried by the Central District Court of Pest in 2008, then transferred to Budapest Metropolitan Court in spring 2010 for the proposal that one of the indicted offences should be given a more serious qualification and adjudged as negligent homicide ...

Although the 3-year ban was still in force, in October this year the ambulance service had to resuscitate a baby who was born in the attendance of Ágnes Geréb. Ágnes Geréb defends herself by maintaining that the pregnant mother only visited her for routine preparations, when she suddenly went into labour. Yet, Ágnes Geréb failed to call the ambulance service. The Court ordered the pre-trial detention of the midwife, which, according to the Central District Court of Pest, is justified because of the risk of re-offending and obstruction in collecting evidence.

The Hungarian Government understands the gravity of the situation and the lack of legal regulations in this matter. The cabinet, which is pursuing strong family-friendly policies is committed to ensure that mothers can give birth as they choose, but only in safe circumstances. Therefore, the Junior Minister's Office for Healthcare of the Ministry of National Resources is currently developing the minimum professional standards for home births, and plans to pass them into law.

Mr. Miklós Szócska, Minister of State for Healthcare, started immediate professional consultations after the case to explore and remedy the current legal deficiencies concerning home births ... The aim is to look at international practices and to involve all stakeholders with a view to a new legal regulation which, if all criteria required by professionals are in place, could offer an alternative to pregnant women when choosing a safe place for delivery. Melissa Maimann, Essential Birth Consulting 0400 418 448