Let’s have a professional homebirth debate


Homebirth advocates have a fallback position when presented with reams of data that homebirth increases the risk of neonatal death. They declare that the evidence is “conflicting” and that “there’s no way we can solve this.” But, of course, there are neutral ways to establish the truth, and I’d like to offer them publicly to homebirth advocates.

The following was originally posted on RH Reality Check in response to a piece by Amie Newman entitled What’s So Scary About Home Birth? I offer this proposal to her, and if she doesn’t accept, to any and all homebirth advocates:

“I’m sure you would agree that American women deserve to know the truth about homebirth. The best way to do that would be to present the information from both sides in a way that everyone could understand and make their own decisions.

I propose that RHRealityCheck sponsor a homebirth debate. I am willing to debate any professional homebirth advocate at any time. I would welcome the opportunity to present my claims side by side with those of homebirth advocates. I am very confident that when women see the actual data, they will realize that professional homebirth advocates have not been completely honest about the safety of homebirth.

Of course, the real problem will be finding a professional homebirth advocate willing to debate. They know what I know and they know that if they are forced to publicly defend their claims, they will be unable to do so. Hence they will do anything possible to avoid a debate.

Last year I was invited to participate in a childbirth conference by the organizers of the conference. They thought that my controversial status in the homebirth community would be an excellent draw. I agreed that I would attend the conference, but with one condition attached. I would only appear in a debate with a professional homebirth advocate, many of whom were already planning to attend.

The conference organizers thought this was a great idea. I warned them that no one would agree, including those who were already planning to attend. Professional homebirth advocates never appear in any forum where they can be challenged by people who are equally knowledgeable. Sure enough, much to the surprise of the organizers, they were turned down by almost everyone. Ultimately they managed to cajole a very prominent homebirth advocate into participating and I made plans to attend the conference. Then, predictably, the homebirth advocate announced that he had changed his mind and would not participate. I did not attend the conference.

I’m hoping that you could be more persuasive, but I am not optimistic. Professional homebirth advocates are afraid of me, and anyone else who has command of the data and scientific literature. They cannot afford to appear in any type of debate because their claims would be eviscerated in short order.

Second, since it is highly unlikely that any professional homebirth advocate would participate in a debate, I offer an alternative way of settling the controversy. Let’s hire a professional statistician to analyze the data and present his or her findings to the public. We could find a mutually agreeable statistician who has no previous connection to the homebirth issue. I am so confident about the results that I am willing to pay for the analysis by any mutually agreed upon professional statistician.

We may not be able to solve the controversy by arguing with each other, but you, in your role as a professional journalist, are capable of presenting a public analysis of the evidence, either by sponsoring a debate or by agreeing to publish the results of an independent statistical analysis.

Check with the executive staff of RH Reality Check and see what they think. It seems like the perfect forum. RH Reality Check is committed to providing women with accurate information on reproductive health topics. This is a chance to inform the public and get lots of publicity and traffic as a result. And, as I said, I’d even be willing to pay for it.”