Childbirth Is Not a Medical Emergency: Maternal Right to Informed Consent throughout Labor and Delivery

J Leg Med. 2018 Jul-Dec;38(3-4):329-353. doi: 10.1080/01947648.2018.1482243.


Labor and delivery often involves medical interventions for which a pregnant woman must provide consent. The expectant mother consents on her own behalf and on behalf of her unborn child. The medical emergency exception to the doctrine of informed consent permits health care practitioners to provide life-saving treatments in the absence of explicit assent by the patient. Though emergent interventions may be necessary in the context of childbirth, the pregnant woman-except under extremely limited and rare clinical circumstances-retains capacity for decision making throughout her labor and delivery course. The physical pain, emotional stress, or medical interventions commonly associated with childbirth do not remove a laboring woman's legal competence. No treatments or therapies, even if with the best of intentions, can be given to her (or her fetus) without her consent.

Publication types

  • Legal Case

MeSH terms

  • Cesarean Section
  • Emergencies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Labor, Obstetric*
  • Mental Competency / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Parturition*
  • Pregnancy
  • Treatment Refusal / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States