While the rest of us have been busy getting on with our lives, most likely taking our freedom and ability to travel from A to B completely for granted, Dr Ágnes Geréb is still in detention, of sorts. Can it really be five years since I first wrote about her? Yes. I checked the dates. My piece published in the Budapest Times on 25 October 2010. And that’s as good as five years ago.
Arrested and imprisoned without trial five years ago for practising midwifery, Dr Geréb was later released to house arrest in December 2010 where she remained until February last year. Imagine not being able to leave the confines of your house for years. I go stir-crazy if I can’t leave for three days! In 2014, the conditions of her house arrest were relaxed a little so while she can travel in and around Budapest, she can’t venture much further afield. A prison as beautiful as Budapest is still a prison if you can’t leave.
As with all things newsworthy, the story soon faded. A band of committed supporters (both local and international) have kept the candle lighting and now they’re raising funds to pay legal and medical expert fees relating to Dr Geréb’s court cases. All contributions are welcomed at http://legalfunddragnesgereb.net. The sum ‒ less than €12 000 ‒ is paltry when compared to the hundreds of thousands if not millions spent on court cases worldwide. But for someone who has effectively been barred from earning a living as a doctor, as a midwife, or as a psychologist (she is qualified to practise each), it may as well be millions rather than thousands.
For those of you who need a reminder: Dr Geréb had a patient whom she had advised not to choose home birth because of a pre-existing health condition. During a scheduled prenatal appointment, the patient suddenly went into labour and the baby was delivered – apparently there was no time to get her to the hospital. When born, the baby had breathing difficulties. Ambulance staff called to the scene began resuscitation and took the baby to hospital. Dr Geréb was subsequently questioned, arrested, and taken into custody. Today, she is fighting a series of additional charges issued after her arrest around birth incidents which pre-date that fateful October night, all of them wrongly placed in a criminal court and all of them still unresolved as she staunchly defends her innocence and her reputation.
Dr Geréb is an internationally acknowledged midwife and a defender of the rights of mothers to control the circumstances of their baby’s birth. Surely the right of a woman to choose how and where she delivers her child is a basic one. For those who argue that home birth puts the life of the child at more risk than a hospital birth, one only has to look to statistics to see how tenuous that argument is. For those who still argue that the state is not responsible for facilitating the choice of home delivery, then they should remember the Ternovsky ruling of 2010 which obliged the Hungarian government to do exactly that.
I am not a mother. I have never given birth. I can’t say whether I’d prefer to be in a hospital or at home should the occasion arise. I simply do not know. But I do know that I’d like the choice. And it’s women like Dr Geréb, professionals who stand tall in the eyes of the thousands of parents in Hungary whose children were born at her hands, who make that choice possible. Let’s remember what she stands for. Let’s remember what she’s going through. Let’s remember to donate.
First published in the Budapest Times 23 October 2015