by Sándor Joób
October 6, 2010
The pregnant woman who experienced a so-called precipitous birth arrived only for a consultation to the Sunlight Birth House, said Bence Békés, president of Parents for Free Birth Society (SZASZ). The ambulance was called from the Birth House, then the father, who was waiting outside the building, also flagged down another ambulance on the street. The police took Ágnes Geréb, a supporter of home birth, into custody after the incident, under suspicion on reckless endangerment in the line of work.
Early Monday afternoon, a childbirth class was underway in Sunlight Birth House in the 12th district (of Budapest, Hungary – the trans). During the childbirth class, a pregnant woman arrived with her husband, both of whom were on good terms with Ágnes Geréb, and had wanted to give birth with her. “As far as I know, they only came for a consultation, not to give birth,” explained Bence Békés, president of the Parents for Free Birth Society (SZASZ), who was not on the premises at the time.
According to information received by the Independent News Agency, the mother suffered from a blood clotting disorder. Based on unverified information, Ágnes Geréb is said to have told the parents after seeing the pregnant woman’s lab results that she does not advise a home birth, but despite this, the woman decided to give birth to her child outside a hospital.
The mother, who arrived for a consultation, suddenly went into labor, said Bence Békés. A so-called precipitous birth followed. This medical term means that birth follows very quickly after the initial signs. Even obstetricians are wary of this kind of birth, because complications can be expected. The newborn developed breathing difficulties, and its circulation collapsed.
In these cases, midwives are obligated to offer professional help, and they were the ones to call the ambulance as well, according to Bence Békés. Cerny Foundation’s ambulance for premature babies was called from the Birth House. However, the ambulance for premature babies happened to be on its way to Vác (a nearby city – the trans.). After receiving the call, the ambulance immediately turned back and started towards the 12th district location, explained Zsolt Somogyvári, the head of Cerny Foundation.
The father of the child went outside the house after a while, where he saw an ambulance. As it turned out, the ambulance had been called to another accident in that street. The father told the paramedics that he, too, was waiting for help, so the paramedics contacted the call center to have them send another child ambulance.
As Pál Győrfi, spokesperson for the Hungarian Ambulance Service stated, the paramedics found the newborn baby boy without respiration or sufficient circulation. The adult paramedics began resuscitation procedures on the newborn, and resuscitation was continued by the paramedics of the child ambulance of the Hungarian Ambulance Service that arrived on the scene later. The Cerny Foundation ambulance for premature babies, in which they had the appropriate equipment for assisted breathing and cooling of the newborn, also arrived after some time.
The resuscitated child was transferred to one of the pediatric wards of Semmelweis University Hospital, while the mother was transferred to Obstetric Clinic II of the same institution (from where, according to the Independent News Agency’s information, the woman was discharged against medical advice on Wednesday).
The police arrived in Alma street (the location of Sunlight Birth House – the trans.) after the transport and arrested Ágnes Geréb. Contrary to earlier reports, it was not specially trained commandos that were dispatched, only two policemen in uniform and two policemen in civil clothes. The commando rumor may have started because the police was at the scene collecting evidence in Sunlight Birth House until late night, at which point there were several uniformed policemen in vests outside the house.
According to the official statement by the Budapest Police Headquarters, Ágnes Geréb was questioned and then taken into custody on suspicion of reckless endangerment committed during the line of duty. A number of witnesses were questioned regarding the matter during the night.
Hungarian Criminal Code: Endangerment committed in the line of duty
171. § (1) Those who endanger the life, bodily integrity or health of others by breaking the regulations of their profession, or causes bodily harm, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is to be punished by a jail sentence of up to one year.
(2) The punishment
a) Jail sentence of up to three years, if the crime caused permanent injury, significant health impairment or mass catastrophy,
b) jail sentence from one to five years, if the crime resulted in death,
c) jail sentence from two to eight years, if the crime caused the death of more than two people, or caused a lethal mass catastrophe.
Ágnes Geréb has faced charges for reckless endangerment several times over the previous years, and in 2007, she was barred for three years from practicing obstetrics and gynecology, which is her profession. Dr Geréb and her associates were charged with reckless endangerment in the line of duty causing permanent injury in connection with a home birth around Christmas of 2003. The lawsuit was restarted in June of this year, and Dr Geréb’s suit landed in front of the Budapest Courts, because suspicion of manslaughter has also come up. In the summer, during the preliminary hearings of the suit, two expert medical witnesses said that Dr Geréb, an obstetrician and gynecologist who was barred from practicing, violated professional guidelines when she failed to ensure the presence of equipment necessary for the resuscitation of a newborn at an earlier birth.
Home birth in Hungary is not forbidden, but unlike in other European countries, it is also not regulated. It is not clear who can choose this type of birth, what the responsibility of the care providers is, what kind of background must be ensured for these types of birth, and what kind of reporting is obligatory in these cases. Although, according to Hungarian constitution, the mother may decide where she gives birth to her child, health regulations state that only those with a license from the Hungarian National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (ÁNTSZ) may assist. However, midwives cannot get this license.
During the term of Ágnes Horváth (previous Minister of Health – trans.) in 2007, a negotiating process began with the aim of regulating home birth. Civil organizations conducted advanced talks with the ministry, which then fell under socialist leadership in 2008. Promising talks continued with the socialists as well, but after many months of hard work, it turned out that the ministry did not support most of the suggestions offered by those in favor of home birth, according to Bence Békés. Advocates of home birth want the system of legal regulations to be developed not by doctors working in hospitals, but rather by professional midwives with experience in this field.
“It is a mother’s right to choose where she would like to give birth to her child, but we must call attention to the fact that neither the professional, nor the medical, nor the practical conditions for conducting home birth safely exist in Hungary,” stated the secretary of the Hungarian National Resource Ministry in charge of health care.
According to the ministry, “since the socialist government has pushed the ambulance service to the brink of operability, and the conditions of obstetric care have worsened, the ability to deal with potential complications that may arise during a home birth may be obstructed.” The Health Secretariat is presently working on the minimum professional requirements and incorporating them into legal regulations, they said.