Doctors Push C-Sections in Chile, but Women Are Pushing Back

Eliot Rojas, his wife, and Romina in the hospital before she had her C-Section. Image Courtesy of Eliot Rojas.
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Eliot Rojas, his wife, and Romina in the hospital before she had her C-Section. Image Courtesy of Eliot Rojas.

SANTIAGO—Romina Rojas loved to travel, spoke many languages, was well read, and was a loving daughter, wife and sister—but never got the chance to be a mother. That’s because at age 34, after a healthy pregnancy, she died of a blood clot a few days after her cesarean section in 2017. 

“We told the doctor that she was having difficulty breathing, that she had chest pains and they didn’t listen to us, they didn’t care,” said Romina’s father, Eliot Rojas de la Fuente. “In Chile they treat patients like clients and because of this, we lost our baby,” Rojas said, fighting tears.

Rojas’s family sued the Santiago hospital for negligence. During any operation, including a C-section, it is medically required to put pressured stockings on patients to prevent blood clots—something Romina did not receive.

“To them, [the hospital] giving a C-section was so routine, just part of the business,” Eliot Rojas said, adding that they weren’t concerned about doing what was best for his daughter, only what was best for them.    

Iván Rojas Tapia, MD (no relation to Romina Rojas) is the lead obstetrician at a private hospital in Santiago with one of the lowest rates of C-sections in the country. At 29%, his clinic is nearly half the national average for private clinics across Chile. 

“All the medical evidence shows that vaginal delivery is better for the woman and the child [when possible],” Rojas Tapia said. “But sadly in Chile doctors aren’t always following the science,” he said.

Rojas said because C-sections have become normalized in Chile, doctors have convinced themselves that having unnecessary C-sections isn’t unethical and without any penalties to convince them otherwise, the rates aren’t going down.  

But at Rojas’s clinic, he’s implemented strict regulations. “I tell all my doctors, ‘if you continue to have high C-section rates, you are going to be out of here’,” he said.  

It’s no secret Chile’s C-section rates are too high. That’s why the Society of Obstetricians is working with the government to lower the rates. Since this past August, private clinics have been required by law to send detailed reports to the Ministry of Health explaining why each C-section was medically necessary. But it’s too early to say if that is having an impact.

In June 2020, a judge ruled in favor of Eliot Rojas and required the hospital to pay $800,000 in damages.

Eliot says he plans to use that money to fund his foundation, which he created in his daughter’s honor. The organization consists of midwives, psychologists and lawyers who support and guide pregnant women about their rights to promote a dignified birth. 

“This foundation is my promise to Romina that I won’t let this happen again to another woman in Chile,” Eliot said.

 

Editor's note: This is part II of a series by freelance journalist Paige Sutherland, who traveled to Chile and completed her investigative reporting with support from the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G Buffett Fund for Women Journalists. You can read part I of her series here.

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