IACHR condemned Argentina for a case of obstetric violence

The Argentine state was condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IDH Court) for the violation of the rights to life, personal integrity and health. This sentence is based on the case of Cristina Britez Arce, a woman of Paraguayan nationality who died in 1992 at age 38 when she was 40 weeks pregnant.

Arce spent two hours being induced into labor despite her baby being confirmed dead and dying in a chair from cardiac arrest while waiting. For the court it was a case of obstetric violence.

The Argentine State recognized its responsibility and argued that the current health policies were different from those that were carried out when the woman died, but the court, anyway, and according to what was reported infobae, possibly carry out a public dissemination campaign on the rights of pregnant people in medical care during their pregnancy, based on the growth in maternal mortality rates in recent years.

The IACHR highlighted that the Argentine State carried out “actions aimed at non-repetition of the facts known in this sentence, which is valued positively.” Among them, he highlighted that maternal mortality in Argentina fell towards 2019, although it rose again in recent years, going from 2.9 per thousand births to 4.1 per thousand births in 2021. That figure “is less than one percentage point per below the maternal mortality rate in 1992 (4.8 per thousand births)”, the year of Brítez Arce’s death. “In the opinion of the Court, this situation imposes the need to implement measures aimed at reducing maternal mortality as a guarantee of non-repetition,” says the agency’s conclusion.

In addition to public policies, The state must financially compensate the children of the victimthat they were 12 and 15 years old at the time of the facts and filed the lawsuit in local and international courts.

Cristina Brítez Arce was 38 years old and more than 40 weeks pregnant when she died. The woman went to her first prenatal check-up on November 25, 1991 at the Argentine League against Tuberculosis and reported a history of arterial hypertension.

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In March 1992, he went to the “Ramón Sardá” Public Hospital and reported a history of hypertension and the next day an ultrasound was performed. Arce continued to be monitored and on June 1 he went to the maternity ward. He had lower back discomfort, fever, and little fluid loss from his genitals. Then Comfort that her baby was dead. After this, she was admitted to induce labor. Between 1:45 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., she was in labor until she was taken to the operating room with full dilation.

“During this time, he had to wait for two hours in a chair. According to the death certificate, Cristina Brítez Arce died that same day at 6:00 p.m. due to ‘non-traumatic cardiorespiratory arrest,’” the cause details.

Justice in Argentina

Cristina’s children, along with their father, filed claims so that both the death of his mother and that of the baby are investigated. At that time there was surely an autopsy for which no results were obtained and the judge declared the experts for falsification of a public document.

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In 1995, the Forensic Medical Corps conducted a second expert opinion in which he affirmed that “Ms. Brítez Arce was a high-risk patient who should have been given a treatment other than the appropriate one.”

Six years later, a prosecutor formally accused a doctor and a doctor from Maternidad Sardá for culpable homicide due to “lack of skill in the practice of medicine, by not having properly diagnosed and at the precise moment the condition suffered by the victim and the fetus, conducting itself through a negligent act by not having adopted all the required care measures to the case, breaching in such a way the duties that they had under their charge”. For this reason, in 2003, the defendants were acquitted.

In addition to the above, there was a third cause. In 1998, criminal complaints were filed against 31 doctors who carried out the plenary expert opinion on May 21, 1997., considering that it was false and concealed the causes of the death of Cristina Brítez Arce. They were all dismissed.

In 1994, a civil lawsuit for damages was initiated against the doctors responsible for Cristina Brítez Arce’s care, against the Ramón Sardá Public Hospital and against the Government of the City of Buenos Aires, for negligence, incompetence and imprudence. At the end of 2009, a first instance judgment was issued, in which the claim was rejected on the grounds that it was not possible to determine with certainty what was the cause of Brítez Arce’s death “because an autopsy was not carried out immediately after its occurrence and because the criminal judge could not connect the harmful act with the actions of the accused doctors.”

Almost 75 percent of women suffered obstetric violence during childbirth

Arrival at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

In 2001 the victim’s family made a presentation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and reached the Inter-American Court in 2021. The sentence, signed last November and notified in the last few hours, was signed by judges Ricardo C. Pérez Manrique, Humberto Antonio Sierra Porto, Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor Poisot, Nancy Hernández López, Patricia Pérez Goldberg and Rodrigo Mudrovitsch. “Although the State recognized its international responsibility for the violation of the considerable rights, the Court will rule in this chapter on the violation of the rights to life, personal integrity and health of Cristina Brítez Arce, and the violation of the right to the personal integrity of their children,” the agency concluded.

For the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Cristina “found herself in a situation of special vulnerability for being pregnant which imposed special duties on the head of the State”.

The court thought that, during the pregnancy, Brítez Arce “presented several risk factors that were not adequately addressed by the health system”such as your age, weight gain, and a history of high blood pressure in a previous pregnancy. “These circumstances imposed a special duty of protection in her favor (…) despite this, Mrs. Brítez Arce did not obtain the specialized and diligent medical treatment that she required due to her pregnancy and the risk factors recorded in the history clinic”, upheld the sentence

The court stated that “there is no record in the file that Mrs. Brítez received sufficient information about the procedure to follow once she learned that the fetus was dead.” “It draws the attention of this Court that Mrs. Brítez existed in labor of a dead fetus for more than three hours, two of them sitting in a chair,” they detailed.

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