Woman Ordered by State to Submit to Hospital Confinement, Cesarean


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In March 2009, mother of two Samantha Burton, was suffering pregnancy complications in her twenty-fifth week of pregnancy. At the state’s request, the Leon County Circuit Court ordered that Burton, who allegedly did not comply fully with recommendations regarding bed rest and smoking cessation,  be indefinitely confined against her will to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and submit to any and all medical treatments, bed rest, and other interventions, including cesarean section. In the words of the court, Burton must submit to anything that “the unborn child’s attending physician,” deemed necessary to “preserve the life and health of Samantha Burton’s unborn child.”  

Burton requested to change hospitals, but the court denied that request, stating that “such a change is not in the child’s best interest at this time.” In addition, the court approved the state’s complete control over Burton’s liberty and medical care during pregnancy on what the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida, who filed an amicus brief in support of Burton, called the “erroneous” legal premise that the ultimate welfare of the fetus was sufficient to override her constitutional rights to liberty, privacy, and autonomy.

Doctors performed an emergency cesarean on Burton after she had been confined to the hospital for at least three days by the state and found that her fetus had already died in utero. Had Burton’s pregnancy gone to term, the mother of two other children would have been held at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital for fifteen weeks.

The brief filed by the ACLU states that the court erred by placing the best interest of the fetus before the liberty and privacy rights of Burton and by failing to demonstrate the type of compelling interest needed to justify the use of involuntary confinement and forced medical treatment. It also found fault with the use of state’s authority to ensure that children receive medical treatment by forcing Burton to undergo medical treatment for the benefit of her fetus.

The ACLU contends that the state based its decision on a single medical opinion without taking into account the fallibility of that decision and demonstrated in this case that “forced medical interventions cannot guarantee the preservation of fetal life.”

Furthermore, the ACLU noted that Burton “did not agree to comply fully with recommendations regarding bed rest and smoking cessation,” which was not the type of “extraordinary” circumstance that would merit court intervention and the confinement of a person to a hospital against their will. Rather, it stated in the brief that “it is hard to imagine anything more commonplace than the inability of a mother of two to remain on continuous bed rest, or the well-documented difficulty in quitting smoking.”

According to the brief, Burton is currently appealing the Leon County Court’s decision that she was confined to a hospital against her will and submit to medical treatment for the duration of her pregnancy on the grounds that her constitutional right to refuse medical treatment was violated and constituted an “unauthorized intrusion into her fundamental rights of privacy, liberty, and bodily integrity.”


Further reading:

ACLU Asks Florida Court To Protect The Rights Of Pregnant Women To Refuse Medical Care


(Via RH Reality Check)

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