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Researchers say doctors should consider benefits, risks of birth videos

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A research team in the University of Iowa College of Medicine cautions physicians that the increasingly common practice of fathers videotaping births has both risks and benefits.

Drs. Jerome Yankowitz, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and John Ely, professor of family medicine, along with medical student Douglas Eitel (who holds a law degree) published their findings in the March issue of the Journal of Family Practice. According to Yankowitz, the article, "Legal Implications of Birth Videos," is the first attempt to examine the current legal status of videotaping in the delivery room.

"The development of inexpensive, portable video cameras has led to a marked increase in the number of people who want to capture this once-in-a-lifetime event," Yankowitz says. "This is pretty much uncharted territory. We felt that doctors and expecting parents should know the ramifications of videotaping a birth."

In the article, the authors examine the potential of videotape as both an advantage and a liability in lawsuits.

"In many cases, a videotape of the procedure may provide a detailed record of the birth, which would be helpful in defending against an unfounded malpractice claim," Yankowitz says. "On the other hand, videotaping a birth may actually increase the possibility of a lawsuit being filed."

According to Yankowitz, the issue extends beyond the liability question. "Some people, physicians and nurses included, feel uncomfortable being videotaped. We certainly need to be sensitive to the fact that nothing should distract or disrupt the delivery of a baby.

And, says Yankowitz, the fear of liability may make some physicians reluctant to allow a birth to be videotaped.

"In many cases, parents who agree to sign a consent form may find the doctor more willing to permit the videotaping," Yankowitz says, adding that by signing such consent forms, the parents neither forego the right to sue nor agree not to use the video in court. Instead, the consent form is a set of guidelines upon which all parties can agree prior to the birth.

In the article, the authors recommend that physicians who agree to allow videotape cameras to be present during delivery adopt a simple set of guidelines so that all parties understand the circumstances. These guidelines include a release form to be signed by the parents, notification of everyone involved in the delivery, positioning the father taking the video near the mother's head so as to allow the caregivers unimpeded room for the delivery, and discussing the procedure with the parents during pre-natal appointments.