Rates of Maternal Death on the Rise in the U.S., But Not in Other Developed Nations

Rates of Maternal Death on the Rise in the U.S., But Not in Other Developed Nations

Modern medicine has progressed rapidly in recent years, allowing medical professionals to treat a range of ailments that were once devastating, and help more patients live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. While that is also the case when it comes to childbirth, recent investigations from NPR, ProPublica, the New York Times, and others are showing that the U.S. is falling short in protecting the lives of mothers during pregnancy, delivery, and shortly after birth.

As noted in an article from the New England Journal of Medicine, investigative journalists, including those behind NPR’s “Lost Mothers” series, are pointing out a serious and often under-addressed problem in America: rates of maternal death in the U.S. are on the rise. Here are a few key points that paint a better picture of the issue:

  • The U.S. is the only country in the developed world where rates of maternal death and pregnancy-related deaths are rising.
  • Between 2000 and 2014, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows as many as 60% of maternal deaths were preventable.
  • The CDC reports that for each pregnant mother who dies, there are approximately 70 others who suffer life-threatening complications. That equates to over 50,000 women annually, but some estimates suggest that number might even be higher.

Pregnancy, Childbirth & Maternal Death

Experts define maternal death arising from childbirth as any death involving women who are pregnant, or any death that: any death which occurs during the process of childbirth (i.e. labor and delivery), or death during or within a year of pregnancy that arises from a pregnancy-related complication, a chain of events started by pregnancy, or an existing unrelated condition which is aggravated by pregnancy.

While there are always individual facts and circumstances behind any maternal death, studies and statistics show that there are some common underlying causes. In addition to common factors such as hemorrhaging, hypertension (high blood pressure), and blood clots, recent investigative reports have also identified areas in which American medical providers are falling short. These include:

  • A lack of focus on mothers’ health – As medical professionals have become concerned with ensuring the safety of newborns and avoiding birth injuries, some experts suggest they do so at the expense of the health of mothers. As NPR’s Lost Mothers series notes, even hospitals and medical facilities with dedication NICUs can be significantly unprepared for dealing with maternal medical emergencies. That lack of focus on mothers’ health and safety also has legislative and policy roots, with only about 6% of all maternal and child health funding from state and federal governments actually contributing to issues that improve mother’s safety. In the emerging field of maternal/fetal medicine, a lack of regulations allow many medical professionals to become specialists and complete their training without interning or logging hours in a labor and delivery unit. These types of issues show maternal mortality is being under-recognized and under-addressed by both laymen and the medical community alike.
  • Lack of standardized practices – Without standardized practices for dealing with maternal emergencies and promoting the health of mothers, hospitals have relied on a hodgepodge of protocols for dealing with serious pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications, which can allow treatable problems to become lethal complications. Some organizations, including a multi-disciplinary medical association called AIM (the Alliance for Innovation of Maternal Health) have created specific best practices experts believe all hospitals that care for pregnant mothers and handle childbirth should implement.
  • Poor collaboration – Medicine is a field with many specialties and subspecialties; something that requires doctors and hospital to coordinate care among doctors, nurses, and administrative personnel. By employing what is known as a Maternal Health Compact, medical professionals can create better collaborative relationships that ensure critical information, including information about maternal risks, are shared among all treating physicians and facilities. It would also promote a system of resource-sharing, where smaller facilities can turn to larger hospitals with better access to interdisciplinary specialists and more resources can provide immediate counsel on addressing emergencies involving mothers, or transport mothers with serious complications more immediately to facilities with the resources their conditions require.
  • Poor emergency preparedness – Effectively dealing with emergencies, as with most things in and out of the medical field, requires preparedness. Experts note that hospitals and medical professionals who care for pregnant mothers improve their ability to address complications and potentially life-threatening events by improving emergency protocol, regularly implementing training and simulated emergency programs, and building upon their staff’s ability to handle complications that, although less common, are higher risk and more likely to result in serious injuries or death.

Maternal Injuries, Death & Medical Malpractice

As a firm that handles personal injury and wrongful death cases, our team at Biren Law Group knows most people tend to associate birth injuries with injuries sustained by newborns, such as oxygen deprivation and brain damage, fractures and bone breaks, cerebral palsy, and other types of injuries that can result from medical negligence. However, injury and wrongful death lawsuits can also be used to help victims and families pursue compensation following preventable injuries or wrongful death of mothers caused by substandard care.

Examples of medical negligence and preventable errors that can give rise to civil lawsuits involving maternal injuries or death include:

  • C-Section errors, including delayed C-sections and failures to perform needed C-sections
  • Misdiagnosis and failures to diagnose serious pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes
  • Failures to monitor maternal health during pregnancy, delivery, and post-deliver
  • Failures to properly manage maternal health conditions, risk factors, or emergencies
  • Surgical and medication errors
  • Failures to treat or properly address infections

Proving fault and liability in cases involving maternal injuries can be a challenging task, especially given the complex medical nature of these claims, the need for medical expert review and testimony, and the fact that hospitals, medical providers, and large insurance corporations work aggressively to deny or dispute liability, and pay victims as little as they can. By working with proven personal injury lawyers like the Los Angeles-based team at Biren Law Group, victims and families can learn more about their rights and legal options, and how we can put our decades of collective experience to work as we pursue the justice and compensation they deserve.

If you would like to discuss a potential personal injury or wrongful death case anywhere in Los Angeles or the surrounding areas of Southern California, call (310) 896-4345 or contact us online for a FREE case evaluation.


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