The last few months have proved fertile ground for newsworthy reports of universal interest concerning the health of pregnant women and newborns, the likely overuse of C-sections, and the role of hospitals and health care providers in shaping parental decisions about childbirth.
Beginning with a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we learned last December that nearly 1 in 3 women giving birth in the U.S. did so by cesarean section. That whopping rate dramatically exceeded the World Health Organization's recommended upper limit of 10 to 15 percent.
This month, we subsequently learned about wild variations in cesarean rates within our own country. After analyzing data from 1,500-plus hospitals in 22 states, Consumer Reports documented C-section rates that ranged between 4 and 57 percent among comparable groups of pregnant women. For two hospitals, mere miles away, rates were 55 versus 15 percent.
Why such profound variations? Should our standards of medical practice be so flexible?