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Human rights in Birth

Informed Consent in Maternity Care

The right to informed consent is a fundamental healthcare right grounded, like the right of refusal, in the right of every human being to autonomy and authority over their own body. When a doctor or other healthcare provider recommends an intervention or treatment, they have a legal obligation to inform the patient of the risks and benefits of the full range of options available to that patient. The patient is entitled to evidence-based, individualized recommendations, and to be supported in the exercise of genuine consent – that is, the choice to accept the recommendation or decline it—on the basis of the woman's personal needs and values. The right to informed consent is a right to evidence-based care—or the right to be informed that the recommendations under discussion have no basis in evidence.

More information here:

Australian Charter of Healthcare

The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights describes the rights of patients, consumers and other people using the Australian healthcare system. These rights are essential to make sure that, wherever and whenever healthcare is provided, it is of high quality and is safe.

The Charter was developed by the Healthcare Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare in consultation with the health sector, government and health consumer groups, and adopted by federal and state health ministers in July 2008.


Informed consent research:

Dr Rebecca Jenkinson completed her PhD in this field, looking at how often clinicians' meet the legal standard for informed consent. In a Queensland study* from 2010, of the 3500+ women surveyed:

  • only 48% of women who had had a planned caesarean section were informed and had consented to have their procedure.

  • 70% of women who had had epidural anaesthesia were informed and had consented to the procedure.

  • 26% had not been informed or consented to their episiotomies.

Here is an interview with Debby from Birthtalk about the power of language used for women and how to promote and utlise language that supports women's choice:

Belinda Barnett talks about equity in women's health, her PhD topic here:

Complaints about treatment:

Some steps you can take when making a complaint to your hospital about your treatment: call the hospital and ask for your file notes from birth/antenatal care/postnatal care (or ask how to obtain them- most likely you will have to complete a release form) 

- Email your complaint, and cc your local State MP, the Health Service CEO (below) 

You can find your health service area here (which will give you more information, the CEO email and a website to find more contacts such as the Board, Board Chair):

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulating Authority is also a place to direct complaints:

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