Home birth death case in Belarus: Jail or forgiveness?

Home birth death case in Belarus: Jail or forgiveness?

A native of Vitebsk Olga Stepanova, pregnant with her second child, came to her mother in Vitebsk from St. Petersburg. She happened to give birth earlier than planned. According to law enforcement agencies and doctors, the woman deliberately refused hospitalization in the maternity ward and decided to give birth at home.

In November 2016, Olga Stepanova came to Vitebsk and registered with a women's consultation service. She told doctors that she would give birth at home, as she does not trust doctors. In addition, Olga, two years ago, already gave birth to a child at home in St. Petersburg, and back then everything went well: the father, who had been studying for a year at special courses, successfully got a daughter.

Despite all the persuasions and warnings Olga answered that she had studied special literature, read a lot of materials on the Internet and was quite ready to give birth to a second healthy baby. Although doctors had a serious cause for concern about the health of both mother and child: the woman had anemia that could give serious complications during or after childbirth. But Olga refused to be hospitalized and signed the necessary documents.

Shortly thereafter, she experienced rapid delivery.

She gave birth to a girl who died two hours later from aspiration with amniotic fluid. An autopsy showed that the child was absolutely healthy. A criminal case was initiated against the mother for causing death by negligence.

In May 2017 Olga was taken into custody. She spent in the remand prison four months before the trial. Law enforcement authorities motivated this by the fact that the woman was going to hide from the investigation.

The court of Zheleznodorozhny district of Vitebsk sentenced the woman to six months of imprisonment. Given the time spent in the remand center, she had to spend only two more.

On October 22, Olga recorded a video message to the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, accusing the doctors of deliberately refusing medical assistance to a newborn girl, giving knowingly false testimonies, negligence, deliberately concealing the violations while providing assistance to her child and demanding that they be held accountable.

No official response was received from the doctors or law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, almost 150,000 signed an online petition in defense of Olga.

The case of Olga Stepanova has been sent for several reviews and the final decision is still pending.

The trial of the Vitebsk woman again divided the Belarusian society regarding whether it's the woman's right to choose where to give birth.

Doctors unanimously assert that home births are very risky, both for the health of the child and for the mother, since it is not known what complications this may result in. If qualified assistance is not rendered in time, both could die.

Other Belarusians object that giving birth is a natural process for a woman and the main thing is not to interfere with her. "You can turn on soothing music, light candles and call your loved ones," and everything will go perfectly and without any complications.

Some in Belarus rightfully say that if a mother gives birth privately and her child dies at home, it's her fault, but if a child dies in a state or private hospital, nobody could be held accountable. Olga Stepanova will continue to seek justice domestically.

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