When Zeus sought divinity for his son Hercules, born of an adulterous affair with the mortal Alcmene, he sneaked the infant into the bedroom of his sleeping wife, Hera, and put him to her breast for a taste of infinity… Hercules suckled so hard that Hera awoke, and she shook him off in outrage, spurting milk across the skies- hence the Milky Way. Hercules already had swallowed enough, though, to join the ranks of the immortals.
It is customary practice for healthcare professionals to obtain consent for treatment from their patients. Of course, this assumes that the professionals deem their patient capable of consent. In the case of obstetricians, many consider the fetus to be their patient at least as equally as the mother. Some states grant rights and protections to the fetus that is denied to the mother in the face of a disagreement or refusal to consent to procedures the healthcare professional deems in the best interest of the fetus, even if there is a risk posed to the mother. Even if the mother does consent to a procedure that puts her at risk, such as a surgical birth called a cesarean or c-section, consent is not as simple to obtain as it may initially appear.
The mere fact that a person provides written consent for a medical procedure is not necessarily indicative of an autonomous decision, especially when she may be agreeing to submit to someone in a perceived position of authority such as her physician, or to circumstances beyond her control (Roberts, 1997). Especially in the case of a poor parent or a parent of color, there are certainly plenty of reasons to be wary of causing waves within the medical establishment. The evidence supports this, as discriminatory enforcement of child endangerment laws are well-documented especially among black parents at a rate ten times higher than white parents (Roberts, 1997).
In 2004, Melissa Rowland initially refused a cesarean birth for her twins at one hospital, choosing instead to have her cesarean at a different hospital a week and a half later. After one of her fetuses was born a daughter whose blood was positive for both cocaine and alcohol, and the other a stillborn son, the District Attorney’s office charged her under a state statute which established her deceased fetus “as a person for the purposes of criminal prosecution and a theory of conduct evincing a depraved indifference to the value of human life” (Wilde, 2004) and child endangerment. She later accepted a plea deal dropping the homicide charge and pleading guilty to two charges of child endangerment for her use of cocaine during her pregnancy, losing custody of her daughter in the process (Miller, 2005).