At first glance, the rate of deaths among women giving birth seems quite low in the United States – about 17 per 100,000. That compares to the global rate of roughly 200 and far better than sub-Saharan African countries, which have the worst rate of more than 500 per 100,000 women.
But that’s only part of the story.
When compared to developed nations, the United States does not fare so well. In fact, according to 2020 health statistics, it has the worst maternal mortality rate among 11 developed countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Three others -- the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway -- had far lower rates, all below three per 100,000.
Maternal mortality is defined by the World Health Organization as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days after termination of pregnancy from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management.
The reasons for the high number of maternal deaths in the United States is attributable, according to one study, to a relative undersupply of maternity care providers, and also to a lack of guaranteed access to provider home visits or paid parental leave in the postpartum period.
One survey showed the United States and Canada have the lowest number of midwives than the other nine developed countries and are the only two countries among those nations with fewer midwives than obstetrician/gynecologists.
The high mortality rate, which has been on the rise in the United States since 2000, occurs despite the fact that the United States spends a higher percentage of its gross domestic product on healthcare than the other 10 developed nations.
One report noted: “ … While high-income countries generally correlate positively with lower maternal mortality rates, the U.S. stands out as having an abnormally high rate of maternal deaths globally despite their vast wealth and medical technology.” The leading causes of death include cardiovascular conditions, hemorrhage, and infection.
Not only is the mortality rate relatively high in this country, it is also discriminatory. Black women in the United States suffer a rate of maternal mortality about three times greater than that for non-Hispanic White women, or roughly 55 deaths per 100,000.
In one such instance, in California, a widower has filed a lawsuit claiming a civil rights violation. The lawsuit was filed by Charles Johnson, whose wife died at a Los Angeles hospital after a C-section that was performed in just 17 minutes. Johnson is claiming a civil rights violation, alleging his wife received inferior care because she was Black. Kira Johnson, 39, died of massive internal bleeding after she gave birth to the couple's second child and after her husband had asked for doctors to take action when he noticed blood in her urine following surgery. His alarms went unheeded, according to his claim.
In an article published by Medscape, the nationally recognized website providing information for clinicians, Kline & Specter doctor/lawyer Mark Polin was asked to comment on the controversial case. Polin, who practiced 19 years as an OB/GYN, told Medscape Medical News: "It's not uncommon for women to have hemorrhage or some postpartum bleeding externally or internally" after such a procedure. However, he said, obstetricians and hospital staff are trained to detect and manage such cases, adding, "It's not typical for a patient to [hemorrhage and] get to the point where they die. In this day and age, it should not happen." Polin noted that such bleeding can usually be stopped when detected early and the patient can be given transfusions.
While Polin is not involved in the Johnson lawsuit and did not suggest medical malpractice is involved in the case, doctor or staff error can affect outcomes in maternal death cases as well as cases involving death or serious injury to infants. In such cases, patients and family members may have grounds for a lawsuit.
Kline & Specter, with five doctor-lawyers – the most in the nation – including two OB/GYNs, has the experience and expertise to handle such litigation. The law firm offers free case evaluations.
The firm handles cases in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York. For cases outside those states, Kline & Specter works with local attorneys in each state as applicable.