Bulgaria: Campaign Educates Women About Their Right to Informed Consent During Childbirth

A campaign educating women about their rights during childbirth and how to make informed decisions about medical procedures was launched in Bulgaria on November 25. The campaign was organized by Estestveno and Rodilnitza, two Bulgarian organizations that focus on women’s human rights relating to pregnancy, birth, and parenting. The campaign involved distributing informational brochures in front of maternity wards and urging hospitals to make Informed Consent forms available to women during pre-natal check-ups. The campaign also involved sending letters to the Ministry of Health reminding them of their obligations to women’s human rights under international and domestic law, and recommending that the Ministry create a working group of lawyers and health professionals to make changes to the Informed Consent document.

Currently, the Informed Consent form has many shortcomings. The document lists medical procedures that will be performed, but it does not give women the right to refuse any procedures. In addition, it does not explain the risks and side-effects of medical procedures or offer alternatives. The implementation of the Informed Consent form is also hugely problematic. Women are often given the form to sign during active labor and are not given enough time to read the document. If women refuse to sign the form, they face retribution from hospital staff, such as psychological intimidation and threats or physical violations such as withholding anesthesia during stitching.

Women in labor experience frequent abuse at the hands of hospital staff in Bulgaria. Bulgaria has a caesarian rate of forty percent of all births because doctors have an incentive to perform caesarians to get a higher pay and to get a more convenient work schedule. Medical procedures are routinely performed and rarely take into consideration women's consent.

Supporters of the campaign can send a letter to the Ministry of Health. A sample letter is available here.

Compiled from: Is Your Consent An Informed One?, Rodilnitza, (22 November 2010).