Hungarian Midwife Ágnes Geréb Receives 2 Years in Prison

by Réka Morvay on February 10, 2012

The Budapest Court of Appeals announced its sentence for Dr. Ágnes Geréb, an obstetrician and home birth midwife. The court of appeals not only upheld the lower court’s decision, but added to the severity of the sentence. Dr. Geréb is to serve two years in prison, not eligible for parole. The court also banned Dr. Geréb from practicing her profession either as an obstetrician or as a midwife for 10 years. Furthermore, the appeals court obligated Dr. Geréb to pay the legal fees associated with her criminal case, which amount to more than HUF 1.5 million (EUR 5000).

Who is Dr. Ágnes Geréb?

Dr. Geréb is an obstetrician with more than 17 years of experience before she started attending home births. She has delivered more than 3000 babies. She was a pioneer on the Hungarian birth scene, being the first doctor to allow husbands and partners in the delivery room with their laboring wives. She was the first obstetrician to attend home births in Hungary, and has faced a significant amount of harassment as a result of her choice to attend births at home. She was banned from practicing medicine once before, which is when she completed midwifery training (with decades of practice as an obstetrician under her belt) and started attending births as a midwife.

What are these criminal cases against Dr. Geréb?

Dr. Geréb is facing criminal charges in 4 separate cases. Two involve post-partum hemorrhages, one a twin birth at home after which one of the babies was born in an oxygen-deprived condition and subsequently died less than a year old, and one case of shoulder dystocia in which the baby died.

Dr. Geréb was taken into custody when the ambulance had to be called to a birth at her birth center in 2010, and the police arrived shortly on the heels of the ambulance. Dr. Geréb was first put in jail, but the international outcry due to the inhumane treatment she received prompted her release into house arrest, where she has been for more than a year.

Why are people upset about Dr. Geréb’s sentence?

The people of Hungary and the home birth community feel that the criminal cases against Dr. Geréb are nothing short of a witch hunt. The treatment she received while she was in prison prompted visits from Hungarian parliamentary representatives and an international human rights outcry. Evidence supporting the maneuvers and techniquest Dr. Geréb used was submitted by foreign experts, but this evidence was not allowed to be presented at her appeals hearing. Then the reasoning in her sentence offerey by the appeals court claims she used techniques and maneuvers that are not described in the medical literature at all. Furthermore, Dr. Geréb received a criminal sentence for actions and events that other practitioners would have faced a professional board for, not a criminal court, so there exists a serious double standard when evaluating her conduct as a doctor. Because of these and other reasons, many feel that the trial against her was meant to provide an example to frighten other home birth midwives in Hungary from attending home births.

Are home births in Hungary illegal?

Actually, they are not. Hungarian women have the right to choose their place of birth, it’s just that before 2011, Hungarian law did not provide any regulations for those who wished to attend a woman’s birth at home. The home birth midwives in Hungary used this legal gap to attend home births, but they were often harrassed by hospital staff when they needed to transfer a laboring woman to a hospital.

In 2011, due to the international outcry regarding Dr. Geréb’s arrest and the absurdity of the legal situation in Hungary, the government passed new regulations that were meant to provide guidelines and licensing for home birth practitioners. Although the regulations came into effect April 1, 2011, not a single person has actually received a license from the Hungarian authorities to attend home births.

This is horrible! What can I do?

You can spread the word. You can contact your Hungarian embassy to let them know you disapprove. You can support Dr. Geréb through a donation. Contact Dr. Geréb’s supporters at www.freegereb.org to offer your assistance. You will find information in English, as well as donation information. Please spread the word about the witch hunt against home birth midwives in Hungary. Click here to read how you can help the remaining home birth midwives in Hungary.

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Réka Morvay is a psychologist, doula, childbirth educator, lactation consultant and student midwife living and working in Budapest, Hungary. She maintains a website about birth topics at http://www.budapest-doula.com and you can read about her professional services at http://www.rekamorvay.com/.
She is also the founder of the Budapest Moms community. In addition to being a birth junkie, she also likes tinkering with websites and watching Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.