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Informed decision-making in labour: action required
  1. Gordon M Stirrat
  1. Centre for Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS1 5QD, UK
  1. Correspondence to Prof Gordon M Stirrat, Centre for Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS1 5QD, UK; g.m.stirrat{at}

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The timely feature article by van der Pijl et al 1 highlights not only the widespread frequency with which unconsented episiotomies and other procedures during labour are reported by women but also that there is hardly any discussion in the literature on the ethics of consent for procedures in labour. Those national and international bodies with responsibility for midwifery and obstetric practice need not only to recognise but also act to remedy this unacceptable situation.

The studies quoted used the recollection of women in reporting consent or lack of it and, although this is an entirely appropriate measure, it gives no insight into what, if any, informed decision-making the care providers carried out. Such information would be useful to determine how better practice might be achieved. A study into the practice of episiotomies by Dutch midwives and obstetricians is referred to and is not reassuring.2 They frequently expressed surprise that consent should be necessary and women were minimally involved in the decision for performing episiotomy. This and other examples quoted of lack of valid consent have a corrosive effect on the fundamental but fragile trust and necessary trustworthiness of the relationship between the person being cared for …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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