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Maternal Mortality Rates Have Spiked In The U.S. ...Has Malpractice, Too?

Since 1990, worldwide maternal mortality rates have decreased by nearly 50 percent. Within the United States, however, statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that maternal mortality rates have doubled in the same time period. This is an unusual discrepancy-and one that researchers have yet to fully explain.

Yet the numbers are clear: In 1987, 7.2 women out of 100,000 died during or shortly after pregnancy. In 2012, that number had grown to 15.9 women out of 100,000.

What had changed?

The answer: Quite possibly, nothing at all. 

Statistics Don't Lie-But They Are Subject To Interpretation

According to the CDC, the statistics are reliable. Yet the CDC also suggests that it's nevertheless possible the maternal mortality rate has not truly increased.

Rather, it seems likely that a modification in how the statistics are gathered may account for the perceived spike in maternal deaths. Namely, in the last 30 years, many states have added a pregnancy 'checkbox' to their death certificates, which "likely improved identification of pregnancy-related deaths over time," the CDC notes.

Should The Maternal Mortality Rate Be Lower-Should Fewer Women Die?

Nevertheless, more than 600 women in the U.S. die each year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications. Now that these deaths are being accurately recorded, it follows that we should be able to understand more accurately just why they occur.

Many maternal deaths result from inadequate or negligent care. Hemorrhages, infections, and unnoticed diseases cause the majority of pregnancy-related mortalities. Unfortunately, obstetricians and nurses too often fail to see the warning signs that presage these conditions-warning signs that, in fact, they are professionally obligated to detect.

As such, while the CDC study does not necessarily mean maternal deaths are on the rise, it indicates that medical negligence may be more prevalent, and may lead to more pregnancy-related mortalities, than we'd previously believed.

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