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Consent and episiotomies: do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good
  1. Elselijn Kingma1,
  2. Marit van der Pijl2,
  3. Corine Verhoeven2,3,4,
  4. Martine Hollander5,
  5. Ank de Jonge6,7
  1. 1 Department of Philosophy, King's College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Amsterdam University Medical Centre (UMC), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Department of Midwifery Science, AVAG, Amsterdam Public Health research institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  3. 3 Division of Midwifery, School of Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
  4. 4 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Maxima Medical Centre, Veldhoven, The Netherlands
  5. 5 Amalia Children’s Hospital, Department of Obstetrics, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  6. 6 Amsterdam University Medical Centre (UMC), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Department of Midwifery Science, AVAG, The Amsterdam Reproduction & Development research institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  7. 7 Department of General Practice & Elderly Medicine, Midwifery Science, University Medical Center (UMC) Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elselijn Kingma, Philosophy, King's College London, London, UK; elselijn.kingma{at}

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We read commentaries on our feature article ‘The ethics of consent during labour and birth: episiotomies’1 with gratitude and interest. Nearly all commenting authors agree that consent for in-labour procedures is necessary and ideally given at the point of intervening.

Both Shalowitz & Ralston and Stirrat note that this is already required by professional statements and guidelines in the USA2 and UK3, respectively, but also note that practice does not yet conform. The Americans authors helpfully emphasise the importance of multilevel institutional measures for closing this gap, including consent policies and reporting mechanisms, as well as ongoing education.2 The UK writer seconds the role for education within wider shared decision-making and informed choice approaches, and generously commends our paper for close study by all maternity care providers.

Others add a cautionary note. Lee applauds all our recommendations, but notes our proposals cannot fully secure autonomy because of, among others, epistemic injustice and other power differentials.4 Kumar-Hazard and Dahlen worry that opt-out consent is equal to substitute decision-making; weakens women’s rights; and is open to abuse.5 Nelson and Clough object to our willlingness to work within a flawed conceptual framework, which ought to be challenged.6

We agree that there are limits to what our proposal can do. It cannot rectify unequal distributions of epistemic credibilities, either in general or in any particular interaction. Risk communication is never neutral;7 “even the most well-meaning healthcare professionals …

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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.