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What duties do hospitals owe parents after a child is stillborn?

Medical malpractice cases typically involve physical harm -- an injury or the worsening of a patient's condition caused by medical professionals' failure to provide treatment that meets the generally accepted standard of appropriate medical care. A single doctor, a medical team or even a hospital can be held liable in such cases.

Physical harm isn't the only heartbreaking outcome from medical negligence, of course. Particularly when the negligence causes permanent injury, disability or death, the patient and his or her loved ones may suffer profound emotional trauma, as well. If it should turn out that emotional trauma was the primary harm caused, however, should that be enough to justify a negligence claim against a doctor or hospital?

A recent lawsuit filed by a Youngstown woman against that city's St. Elizabeth Health Center may help answer that question.

According to the Associated Press, the woman was pregnant with twins last spring. Sometime before her June delivery date, she was given the tragic news that one of the twins had died.

When she delivered the surviving twin, she expected to receive a new baby to love and protect, of course. She also expected to be given the remains of her departed child for proper funeral and burial. Instead, she says, she never saw her lost infant after the delivery.

The hospital disposed of the infant's body without her consent. Unfortunately, according to the woman's attorney, the hospital hasn't even explained what was done with the remains. The bereft mother's lawsuit seeks at least $25,000 in compensation for the hospital's negligence.

A spokesperson for St. Elizabeth Health Center was unwilling to comment specifically, due to the pending lawsuit. However, she assured reporters that the hospital system is set up to provide quality care and compassion for patients.

Laying our eyes on a departed loved one is a human need that everyone can understand. There may be good reasons not to view the deceased, but the choice should always be up to the family. For most people, a funeral is a necessary part of the grieving process. If this woman wasn't physically harmed by the hospital's negligence, she was unquestionably traumatized emotionally. When it comes to parents who have lost children, how much of a difference should that make?

Source: WBNS Columbus, "Mom sues Ohio hospital over stillborn baby's body," Associated Press, Feb. 20, 2014

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