National / Crime & Legal

Couple sue Juntendo hospital over fatal complications from labor-inducing drug, anesthetic

Kyodo

A woman and her husband are suing Juntendo University Hospital in Tokyo for ¥140 million in damages, claiming the wife suffered a uterine rupture and a stillbirth after she was administered drugs without her consent during delivery using anesthesia to reduce the pain, their lawyer said.

Yoshinori Sadatomo, the couple’s attorney, said Tuesday that he also submitted a request to the health ministry demanding that it revoke the hospital’s designation as a special treatment institution that offers high-level medical technology.

“The couple chose Juntendo thinking it was well-equipped, but they were not given high-level and safe medical treatment,” Sadatomo said.

A recent spate of reports of so-called painless delivery cases resulting in death or disability have prompted the health ministry to investigate the situation involving deliveries using anesthesia.

According to the lawsuit filed Friday with the Tokyo District Court, the woman went into labor and was rushed to the hospital on Feb. 4, 2015, preparing to give birth to a girl, her first child. After being administered a labor-inducing drug without being informed, her condition suddenly changed on Feb. 6, and she temporarily suffered cardiopulmonary arrest. The baby was stillborn the same day.

The couple claim the doctors overlooked the danger of uterine rupture presented by the labor-inducing drug. The woman had also been given an epidural anesthesia which reduced her intense abdominal pain, thus masking some clear warning signs of strong contractions. As a result, the wall of her uterus was torn and the uterus later had to be removed.

The labor-inducing drug includes a warning on the package stating that there is a risk of labor becoming too strong, which may cause uterine rupture. The couple said they were not consulted about these risks beforehand.

Hospital officials declined to comment, saying they have not yet seen the lawsuit documents.

Since 2014, the hospital has kept an anesthesiologist on call around the clock so its obstetrics department would be able to provide painless childbirth.

According to the Japan Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, epidural anaesthesia procedures accounted for 4.6 percent of overall deliveries in fiscal 2014, 5.5 percent in fiscal 2015 and 6.1 percent in fiscal 2016. A total of 14 women who went through the procedure have died since 2010, the association said.

Kiyoshi Uchide, a gynecologist and a special professor at Komatsu College, said when uterine contractions become too strong because of the use of a labor-inducing drug, blood from the mother could fail to reach the fetus and lead to fetal distress. To prevent this, excessively strong contractions should be avoided, he said.

But as anesthesia by definition dulls the intensity of pain from contractions, it is important to constantly monitor the conditions of the mother and fetus when the mother is under anesthesia, Uchide said.