AMA: House of Delegates Backs Ban on Shackling Inmates in Labor

CHICAGO -- The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution to prohibit the shackling of women during labor -- a practice outlawed in seven states but still used in some prisons and hospitals for inmates who are giving birth.

The resolution was introduced by a group of ObGyns along with several state medical societies and adopted by the AMA's full House of Delegates on Tuesday by a voice vote.

California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Vermont, and Colorado all have laws discouraging the practice of shackling female inmates during labor. The AMA's resolution calls on the doctors' group to write draft legislation that other states could use as a model to pass their own antishackling laws.

Shackling can refer to a number of restraint methods, including wrapping a chain around the inmate's waist and cuffing her hands to the chain, or just cuffing the woman's ankle to the hospital bed.

Doctors speaking in support of the resolution said the use of restraints during labor is not in line with the ethics of the medical profession.

"Shackling women in labor runs counter to our values," said delegate Dr. Erin Tracy, an Ob/Gyn from Stoneham, Mass.

"It's dehumanizing," she commented during a Sunday hearing of the AMA's legislative committee. Female inmates "need to be provided adequate compassionate care."

The resolution refers to the practice as "barbaric" and "medically hazardous" and calls for the AMA to support language that no restraints of any kind should be used on an inmate who is in labor, delivering her baby, or during recuperation unless there is a "compelling" reason to believe she poses serious harm to herself or others, is a flight risk, and "cannot be reasonable constrained by other means."

"Certainly in cases where public health is at risk ... it's necessary to have appropriate restraints," Tracy added.

The AMA resolution also states that correctional facilities, detention centers, or local jails should use the "least restrictive restraints necessary" when an inmate is in the second or third trimester of her pregnancy.

States that have passed antishackling laws haven't reported any safety issues by not restraining pregnant inmates, said Dr. Cynthia Goto, an Ob/Gyn from Honolulu. Women in the midst of labor are unlikely to be able to overpower guards and escape from the delivery room, Goto commented.

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