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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Unassisted Births and Criminal Liability

Published June 22, 2012 3:43 PM by Catlin Nalley
Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court recently overturned the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Allissa Pugh, a woman from Milford, MA whose child died during an unassisted birth at her home.

According to reports, Pugh mistook her water breaking for a miscarriage. She soon realized the baby was breech and "pushed about 10 times and pulled on the baby to speed up the delivery. The infant was delivered a few minutes later, but was blue and unresponsive," wrote The Portland Press Herald.

The infant's body was discovered in January 2007 during trash collection in her neighborhood.

The Supreme Judicial Court not only threw out Pugh's conviction, but also unanimously ruled that women who choose to give birth without medical assistance would not face potential criminal charges.

"Existing criminal laws proscribing murder, most late-term abortions, and the neglect and abuse of children appropriately protect the State's interests in safeguarding viable fetuses and living children without the need to subject all women undergoing unassisted childbirth to possible criminal liability,'' Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the court.

"Imposing a broad and ill-defined duty on all women to summon medical intervention during childbirth would trench on their ‘protected liberty interest in refusing unwanted medical treatment,'" she added.

Do you think women who opt for unassisted births should face possible criminal charges? Have you seen any evidence to suggest that more women are choosing this type of child birth?

posted by Catlin Nalley


I agree that this a complex issue, but what we don't know about this case is what gestation was the fetus. If this occurred before age of viability then it would most certainly be difficult to prosecute. If however this was of viable gestation, I would think this be a different issue and an argument could be made that with proper medical care the infant could be resuscitated. We are talking human beings, not discardable objects.

Kelly June 24, 2012 8:51 AM

This is tricky. I think in this case, yes, she should be charged. Unassisted birth should be a right for the mother but the mother should also have enough knowledge to know the process of a birth. She sounded like she didnt have a clue when she pulled on the baby. The fact that the baby was breech didnt help either. if the mother knew that the baby was breech then she should have called 911 and sure as hell shouldnt have thrown the baby in the trash.

Melissa V June 22, 2012 6:10 PM

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