Did conscientious objection kill a woman?

We are about to witness the beginning of the trial of seven defendants charged with the death of a Sicilian woman pregnant with twins. Will the incident be ruled a case of medical malpractice or conscientious objection?

Ingrid Colanicchia
Ingrid Colanicchia MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
Did conscientious objection kill a woman? - NewsMavens
Doctor. Pixabay

Why this story matters:

Valentina Milluzzo died of undiagnosed or untreated septicemia. This is a known fact. What remains to be determined is whether what appears to be malpractice at first glance is in fact a case of conscientious objection.

The young woman's family stated that a doctor refused to intervene because "one of the little hearts was still beating," thus raising concerns that the medical personnel was determined to preserve the life of the fetus at all costs.

But in Italy, conscientious objection -- as defined by law 194, dating from 1978 -- is only allowed in cases of voluntary interruption of pregnancy, certainly not when the life of the mother is in danger.

So-called "structural objection," when not only individual gynecologists and anesthesiologists but entire hospital facilities object, is also prohibited. Nevertheless, it is only 60.4% of department of obstetrics and gynecology that perform voluntary interruptions of pregnancy. In Sicily this figure falls to 51.7%.

Details from the story:

  • On October 16, 2016, Valentina Milluzzo died of septicemia during her 19th week of pregnancy in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the Cannizzaro Hospital in Catania.
  • Seven doctors are going on trial for medical malpractice, but many wonder if the death was not brought on by conscientious objection. Family members have stated that doctors refused to intervene because the heart of the fetuses was still beating, even when Valentina's condition visibly worsened. 
  • According to the latest report of the Ministry of Health, the percentage of conscientious objectors in Italy remains very high: in 2016 it was 70.9% among gynecologists, 48.8% among anesthesiologists, and 44% among non-medical staff. In Sicily the figures are even higher: 84.6% among gynecologists, 76.9% among anesthesiologists, 84.2% among non-medical personnel.

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