Legal and Ethical Considerations during Maternal Death Surveillance and Response

Afr J Reprod Health. 2018 Jun;22(2):17-25. doi: 10.29063/ajrh2018/v22i2.2.


Maternal death surveillance and response (MDSR) is a promising strategy, to identify record and track key drivers of maternal deaths. Despite its potential in reducing maternal mortality, ethical and legal challenges need to be properly ascertained and acted upon, to guarantee its acceptability, sustainability, and effectiveness. This paper proposes a legal and ethical framework to guide practitioners and researchers through the MDSR process. Three (03) categories of both legal and ethical issues are discussed: namely the issues related to data, people and use of findings. Most challenges of the MDSR strategy have ethical and legal underappraisal origins, the most outstanding being the low maternal death notification rates. Efforts should be made for respondents to properly understand the rationale for the process, and how the data obtained will be put into use. Dispelling fears of possible litigation remains fundamental in obtaining quality data. Health care providers involved in the process need to understand their ethical and legal responsibilities, as well as privileges (legal protection). It is hoped that this framework will offer a structure to guide professionals in improving MDSR implementation and research.

Keywords: ethical; legal; maternal death surveillance; mortality.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Death* / ethics
  • Maternal Death* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Maternal Health Services* / ethics
  • Maternal Health Services* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Maternal Mortality
  • Pregnancy
  • Public Health Surveillance / methods*
  • Social Responsibility*