Banned at Birth: Maryland Hospital Bars Delivery Room Pictures and Video

Meritus Medical Center bans pictures, video until 5 minutes after baby is born.

December 29, 2010, 11:52 AM

Dec. 29, 2010 — -- Laurie Shifler, pregnant with her eighth child, is preparing for a birth different from her seven previous experiences after her Maryland hospital banned photography and video in the delivery room until five minutes after the baby is born.

"My family has taken pictures of every single one of my children when they were seconds old. I have pictures of all seven of them on my chest, that new look, that new human being that you just brought into the world," Shifler said.

The hospital, Meritus Medical Center, formerly known as Washington County Hospital, implemented its policy Nov. 1.

"We felt it enabled the physician, midwives and staff to focus on the safety and health of the mom and the newborn and that it still allowed the cutting of the cord and photo opportunities of mom with baby," Mary Stuart Rizk, spokesperson for Meritus Medical Center, said.

The hospital, located in Hagerstown, said that it decided on the policy after surveying several hospitals in the region. Meritus said that the policy does not stem from lawsuits but from concern about mother and child.

Still, Shifler, who works as a photographer, feels like the ban on picture taking encroaches upon her family's rights. Many of her children have been in the delivery room as their new sibling was added to the family, snapping pictures of their new brother or sister.

'They've gotten beautiful pictures and they've loved every second of it," Shifler said. "How can you tell someone you can't take a picture of your own child?" she said.

Shifler's husband, a police officer, has been the one behind the lens taking those family photos.

"He's just as upset as I am. ... What's next, the father can't be in the delivery room?" she said.

Rizk, the hospital spokesperson, said that the hospital has received only one formal complaint since implementing the policy.

"We heard from one expectant mother in late September to complain about the pending policy change," Rizk said. "We have not had a single patient complaint since we implemented the policy on Nov. 1."

Shifler said that many moms might not be aware of the policy. She found out by accident.

"Some friends told me and so I started checking," Shifler said. "I e-mailed a representative of the hospital and I had someone from the hospital call me. ... I was shocked. I couldn't actually believe that she was serious."

Maryland Hospital Bans Video, Pictures In Delivery Room

Meritus Medical Center isn't the first hospital to follow such a policy.

In 2006, Harbor Hospital in Baltimore implemented a policy similar to the one at Meritus; no delivery photography and video is allowed until after the labor and birth. Permission must be granted for photos to be taken.

American Hospital Association spokesperson Matt Fenwick said that it's up to individual hospitals to determine their own policies. They don't track which hospitals allow photos and video in the delivery room.

Larger hospitals like Inova Fairfax Hospital in the Washington, D.C. area, leave the decision up to the individual physician. Inova is the fifth largest birthing hospital in the country.

Dr. Stacie Geller from the National Center of Excellence in Women's Health said that she hadn't heard of a restrictive policy like this on taking pictures of a birth.

"The first thing that comes to mind is it's a malpractice, legal issue," Geller said.

Geller said that immediately following a baby's birth, an APGAR (Activity, Pulse, Grimace, Appearance and Respiration) test is done to determine a baby's health. Hospital officials might want to wait until the APGAR is completed and the baby is deemed healthy before allowing photos.

Geller said that each expectant mom has to adhere to a hospital's policy and it's up to the mom to do the research nessary about where her hospital stands on pictures and video.

Geller practices at the University of Illinois Medical Center, where she said the policy is not restrictive.

Jim Reiter from the Maryland Hospital Association said that there's not one dominating stance among the 47 member hospitals, including Meritus Medical Center, that belong to the association.

"There's not a broad scope that says you ought to do this; each hospital sets their guidelines up on their own," Reiter said. "Hospitals adhere closely to (health privacy laws) and error on the caution of privacy."

Reiter said that the advent of cell phone cameras makes regulating a patient's privacy even more difficult.

"I wouldn't say fear of lawsuits is the number one deciding factor," he said. "What matters is the privacy of the patient and their recovery."

But Brian McKeen, a medical malpractice attorney, said that hospitals are greatly influenced by the threat of a lawsuit when developing their policies regarding delivery room photography and videography. He said that restrictive policies like the one at Meritus Medical Center are increasingly common.

"There's no question in my mind or in the minds of other colleagues who I've worked with on the obstetrical side that hospitals are doing this so as not to have a piece of evidence generated that can be used against them in a court of law," McKeen said. "They do it to hide the truth," he said.

McKeen said that video and photos from a delivery can help in deciding a medical malpractice case.

"It may show that the physician complied with the standard care and engaged in all the appropriate maneuvers, or it may show the physician did not engage in the appropriate maneuvers and or used excessive force and caused the birth injury," he said.

McKeen said that if a patient isn't permitted to photograph or videotape a birth when they want to, they should find another doctor.

Shifler, the 36-year-old expectant mother, said it's too late to change doctors and hospitals. Her due date is Jan. 13. "I don't even know what the logistics would be with the insurance and just to find someone that would take me at 38 weeks. I've used him [my current doctor] for the last four kids," Shifler said.

Shifler is hoping the hospital will change its stance.

"A picture at five minutes old versus five seconds old is a whole different picture."

Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.

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