I was recently listening to a segment on NPR that addressed the fact that many obstetricians are reluctant to speak to their patients about the potential danger of toxic substances in their environment. Though it is well documented that exposure to heavy metals and solvents can cause miscarriage, birth defects, and developmental problems, less than 20 percent of obstetricians ask their patients about their exposure to environmental hazards. They withheld the information because they felt that they would create fear and anxiety in their patients and as a result their patients would raise questions that the doctor’s felt they did not know how to answer.
Current research has shown that pesticides and air pollutants are linked to birth defects, but it is not clear whether the exposure people experience in a normal daily life is enough to cause these issues. For this reasons doctors feel that they cannot offer solutions to their patients on ways to prevent exposure and they would send their patients into unnecessary fear spiral. The Center for Environment Research and Children’s Health at Berkeley has recommendations for simple and inexpensive steps to help pregnant women reduce their exposure in their home, but doctors often neglect to tell their patients about these.
Is it ethical for doctors to withhold this information that affects the health of their baby?
I understand the concern that they may not be able to offer many solutions, but I feel that mothers have a right to know that these hazards exist. I don’t think it will send women into an unnecessary spiral of panic. At least informing mother’s of exposure risks from things they have control over such as cleaning products, food containers, or food products would allow the mothers to make safer choices instead of unknowingly exposing their babies to dangerous chemicals.
Few Doctors Warn Expectant Mothers About Environmental Hazards http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/06/25/324940705/few-doctors-warn-expectant-mothers-about-environmental-toxins