By Claire Macdonald
Internationally respected Hungarian obstetrician/gynaecologist and midwife Dr Ágnes Geréb, who has assisted more than 3500 successful home births, was arrested on 5 October 2010 and is accused of negligent malpractice after a woman, at a routine antenatal visit, went into precipitous labour and birthed a baby who developed breathing difficulties. The midwife called an ambulance and instigating resuscitation, and both mother and baby are now reported to be doing well.
Geréb is the founder of the Napvilág birthing centre in Hungary her license to practice medicine was revoked in 2007 and in 2009 she was charged for manslaughter relating to an earlier home birth when a baby died after a difficult labour. Her lawyer, Andrea Pelle, claims that the protocols of the trial were falsified. The latest arrest has sparked outrage among home birth activists worldwide.
Ágnes is described as “a hero to women across Hungary, she has dedicated the past 30 years to defending the right of mothers to choose their birthing experience”. The arrest is seen by Ágnes Geréb’s supporters as an “attack by the Hungarian authorities and medical profession who are consistently opposed to home birth”. While home birth is not illegal in Hungary, the country’s public health authority refuses to issue licences to independent midwives. Unlicenced midwives who provide any medical assistance are breaking the law, so women who wish to birth outside the hospital system are unable to find skilled attendants for their births. Five of the fifteen midwives who do provide a home birth service are currently facing lengthy prison sentences.
Hungarian women wishing to birth naturally face an uphill battle. The hospital system is highly interventionist; including routine inductions and episiotomies. The cost to women for obstetric care is significant, up to a month’s wages. While our maternity care system here in New Zealand provides free, woman-centred, competent home birth midwifery care, this was not always so. Stories like this one give us a chance to reflect on what we have, and what we stand to lose if it is not protected.