The importance of clinically and ethically fine-tuning decision-making about cesarean delivery

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Abstract

In obstetric practice, each pregnant woman presents with a composite of maternal and fetal characteristics that can alter the risk of significant harm without cesarean intervention. The hospital's availability of resources and the obstetrician's training, experience, and skill level can also alter the risk of significant harm without cesarean intervention. This paper proposes a clinical ethical framework that takes these clinical and organizational factors into account, to promote a deliberative rather than simplistic approach to decision-making and counseling about cesarean delivery. The result is a clinical ethical framework that should guide the obstetrician in fine-tuning his or her evidence-based, beneficence-based analysis of specific clinical and organizational factors that can affect the strength of the beneficence-based clinical judgment about cesarean delivery. We illustrate the clinical application of this framework for three common obstetric conditions: Category II fetal heart rate tracing, prior non-classical cesarean delivery, and breech presentation.

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