Thursday, September 29, 2005
Filming a Birth: Banned in America?
Here's a movie (albeit an amateur movie)-related issue to think about. Even as the growth of digital motion picture technology continues to further democratize the process of moviemaking, steps are underway to ban video cameras from delivery rooms. Since the late 1970s -- when freedom of expression and the experimental use of motion pictures were at an all-time high -- videotaping the birth of a child had become a fairly routine procedure. But now, with hospitals fearing lawsuits, that's changing, and camcorders are being outright banned from delivery rooms. CNN reported that a Houston hospital banned videotaping of births after agreeing to pay a family $15 million in a lawsuit. The family's tape showed negligence during the delivery that left the child blind and with irreversible brain damage. (The name of the hospital was not disclosed as part of the settlement.) That case sent shockwaves through medical institutions around the country, and soon the trend to ban video cameras in the delivery room grew -- for fear that if even the hint or suggestion of something awry was caught on tape, a malpractice suit may follow. In the article "Legal Implications of Birth Videos" (which was published in Journal of Family Practice and was the first such article to examine the current legal status of videotaping in a delivery room), a research team at the University of Iowa College of Medicine cautioned physicians that the increasingly common practice of fathers videotaping births has both risks and benefits. In the article, the authors examined the potential of videotape as both an advantage and a liability in lawsuits and recommended that physicians who agree to allow videotape cameras to be present during delivery adopt a simple set of guidelines so that all parties understand the circumstances. These guidelines include a release form to be signed by the parents, notification of everyone involved in the delivery, positioning the father taking the video near the mother's head so as to allow the caregivers unimpeded room for the delivery, and discussing the procedure with the parents during pre-natal appointments. But many hospitals, in light of the recent $15 million lawsuit, have just taken to banning the procedure altogether. So, is the banning of video cameras in the delivery room a first amendment issue? A restriction of a freedom of expression? Do institutions, such as hospitals, have the right to ban such films from being made (even as they accept public money for their services)? What do you think? Let me know.