Baby born healthy after hospital advised abortion

by Joanne Dodgson


(via ABC News Australia) The ABC has learned that Canberra Hospital recommended a late-term abortion for a baby who was later born healthy.

The incident has come to light after nine obstetricians left the hospital during the past 13 months amid claims of bullying by senior staff and a hostile working environment.

There are now fears that Canberra’s biggest hospital will not be able to staff its new maternity unit because some experienced obstetricians are not prepared to work there.

Fiona Vanderhook came close to never knowing her 14-month-old son Diesel.

When she was five weeks pregnant, a trainee doctor told Ms Vanderhook she had lost the baby.

The doctor recommended termination using the drug misoprostol, but the drug did not work and a follow-up scan showed the foetus was still alive.

Later scans revealed the baby had fluid on the brain – a condition likely caused by the abortion drug Ms Vanderhook had been given.

Despite six other specialist opinions that the baby would be born normal, Ms Vanderhook says a senior obstetrician at Canberra Hospital continued to press her to terminate the baby, even at 31 weeks, when termination would have involved inducing labour.

“To have a baby induced and to watch him just die and not do anything about it? I was disgusted,” Ms Vanderhook told the ABC.

The Vanderhook’s barrister, Bernard Collaery, believes there is a simple explanation why the hospital was urging her to terminate the pregnancy.

“Away would go the litigation that might in the event of serious deformities produce a multi-million dollar verdict,” he said.

Ms Vanderhook applied for her clinical notes from the hospital with a view to legal action.

But when she received them, crucial information including the repeated recommendations for a termination were missing.

Mr Collaery says the hospital has a culture of covering up mistakes.

“There’s another secret Z file as it were, in the health system in the ACT where for legal reasons there documents cannot be secured by patients themselves,” he said.

ACT Health acting chief executive Peggy Brown vigorously denies.

“We’ve actually won a national award around our risk reporting and our culture is of very robust reporting around incidents,” she said.

“We have incidents, we have a process of reviewing them looking for improvements that can be made so I would reject any sort of culture that says we cover-up.”

Second case

It is the second case the ABC has learned of where an unsupervised registrar made a critical error.

Canberra woman Melanie Peterson almost died three years ago when she was treated for a molar pregnancy in which foetal cells turn cancerous.

The procedure – carried out by an unsupervised registrar – went wrong.

“Perforated my uterus multiple times and then in doing that they pulled my bowel down and nicked that six times,” Ms Peterson said.

“They had to pull my complete insides out and empty them and then cut out 30 centimetres of my small bowel.”

In the rush to repair the damage, pregnancy tissue was left inside Ms Peterson. Despite two more procedures to remove it, she developed a life threatening bacterial infection five months later.

“Extremely painful. But the pain I’d say isn’t quite as bad as the mental drain I had to go through,” she said.

Mr Collaery says the registrar should not be blamed but rather the person who should have been supervising.

Ms Brown says the unit is short-staffed but safe.

“It would be nice if that pressure was eased a bit for those staff that are there,” she said.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says it is not aware of unsupervised registrars performing procedures beyond their abilities.