Miscarriage in Singapore: What to Do, Suing For Negligence, Etc.
Spontaneous pregnancy loss is a painful event and can have potential psychological impacts on you and your partner’s life.
If you believe that a hospital or a doctor was the cause of the miscarriage, this article will discuss whether it is possible to sue for a miscarriage and the steps to do so. It will cover:
What is a Miscarriage?
A miscarriage is the loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy. It typically happens during the first trimester or the first three months of the pregnancy but may occur in the second trimester of pregnancy as well (though the risk is widely reduced).
What is the difference between a miscarriage and a stillbirth?
Like a miscarriage, stillbirth is also pregnancy loss. However, while a miscarriage happens before the 20th week, stillbirth refers to the loss of a baby after the 20th week of pregnancy. The baby may have died in the uterus weeks or hours before labour.
In Singapore, a baby is considered stillborn if it is born dead from its mother’s body after the 22nd week of pregnancy (i.e. the baby did not breathe or show any signs of life at birth). However, a Stillbirths and Births (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill introduced on 7 November 2023 amended the threshold in the definition of a stillborn child to after 24 weeks of pregnancy to align with the cut-off for abortion.
What is the difference between a miscarriage and an abortion?
Abortion generally refers to the intentional termination of pregnancy. This can occur either by taking medicines or having surgical procedures.
On the other hand, a miscarriage is sometimes referred to as a spontaneous abortion due to the sudden nature of miscarriage. Unlike an abortion, the loss of a baby in a miscarriage is not something that can be controlled and generally occurs without any intentional action taken to terminate the pregnancy.
What Can You Do in the Event of a Miscarriage?
Since a miscarriage may typically occur very early on in the pregnancy, it is possible that some women may not even realise that they are pregnant. A miscarriage happens quickly and it is important to recognise the symptoms of a miscarriage so that you can seek medical help promptly.
The symptoms of a miscarriage include:
- Heavy spotting
- Vaginal bleeding
- Discharge of tissue or fluid in your vagina
- Severe abdominal pain or cramping
- Mild to severe back pain
The symptoms of a miscarriage may vary depending on your stage of pregnancy. If you experience any of those symptoms during your pregnancy, you should consult a doctor immediately.
Your doctor will conduct a full examination to decide if the foetus is still viable. If you are at risk of having a miscarriage and have symptoms of vaginal bleeding, your doctor may prescribe you progesterone medication or injections to bring down the chances of a miscarriage happening.
If a miscarriage is diagnosed, the pregnancy tissues would naturally leave your body and treatment is usually not required. However, medication or surgery may be required if your body is unable to naturally pass out the rest of the remaining tissues.
Do you need to inform the authorities about your miscarriage?
While informing the authorities about your miscarriage is not mandatory, you may consider holding a small memorial service or symbolic ceremony for your baby to aid your recovery and grieving process. You may also wish to share your thoughts with a support group and seek professional help if you continue to have difficulties coping with the loss.
Can You Sue a Doctor or a Hospital For Negligence in the Event of a Miscarriage?
Medical negligence is the failure to exercise proper professional care or knowledge in the performance of medical duties resulting in injury, damage or loss to the patient. To advance a claim for medical negligence, you must provide evidence of the doctor’s negligence and the doctor’s behaviour must be considered by the medical experts to be below the acceptable standards of what a doctor in a similar situation would have done.
In the context of a miscarriage, the expectant mother could have received an unacceptable standard of care, and such negligent care increased the chances of her miscarriage.
Some examples of negligent and unacceptable standard of care include:
- Failure to check if the woman is pregnant before carrying out a risky procedure
- Inadequate treatment of a bacterial infection in a pregnant patient
- Misdiagnosis of a medical condition in a pregnant patient that leads to pregnancy complications, including miscarriage
Lodge a complaint with SMC
In any case, the first step should be lodging a complaint with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), which is a statutory board under the Ministry of Health. The SMC is responsible for regulating the conduct of doctors in Singapore and looks into issues relating to improper conduct, defect in character or defective quality of practice. For example, a doctor who had a dismissive attitude and made disparaging remarks to you when you raised concerns about your pregnancy.
The SMC may then refer the complaint for a confidential mediation session, which you and the doctor are required to attend.
You may also wish to get the doctor and/or hospital to acknowledge their mistake and issue a formal, closed-door apology.
If the mediation fails, you may consider filing a lawsuit and suing the doctor or hospital for negligence.
Sue the doctor or hospital for negligence
You may choose to commence legal action by suing the errant doctor in court. In some cases, you may even choose to instead sue the clinic or hospital instead of the doctor. For example, if you believe that the standard of care owed by the hospital to you was breached, such as through inadequate procedures, and that these inadequate procedures caused the miscarriage.
In deciding the outcome of the case, the court may compare the hospital’s standard of care to other hospitals, i.e. whether other hospitals would have done the same for a patient in similar circumstances to yours. It may also examine the hospital’s manpower allocation and existing guidelines on handling similar situations or patients with a similar profile to yours. A hospital may also be held responsible for the incompetent services provided by its medical employees. For example, if their employees failed to check thoroughly on medication doses or scheduling timely follow-ups with a patient with certain medical conditions that might make them more susceptible to complications.
Should the legal action be successful, the patient may be awarded compensation for pain and suffering, medical bills, loss of wages (i.e. if you had to take no-pay leave to recover after the miscarriage or was unable to continue with your job as a result) and wrongful death.
For more information, you may refer to our article on medical negligence in Singapore.
Support Available For Singaporean Parents Who Just Experienced a Miscarriage
Maternity leave is generally not granted for miscarriages. However, if you have worked for your employer for at least 3 months, you are entitled to paid sick leave. The number of days of sick leave that you are entitled to depends on your period of service – you can be awarded up to 14 days for paid outpatient sick leave and up to 60 days of paid hospitalisation leave. You should also refer to your employment agreement or contract to determine the leave entitlements offered by your employer.
You may also be eligible for paid hospitalisation leave if you had undergone day surgery for miscarriage complications or are certified to require rest to recover.
Emotional wellness support
Additional support is available from organisations such as Child Bereavement Support and Angelhearts. These organisations are networks of bereaved parents offering support to those who are dealing with grief from pregnancy loss. They aim to bring comfort and instill hope for bereaved families. On their websites, you may find resources for coping with grief, support groups and various services such as funeral services to aid grief support.
Alternatively, hospitals such as KKH and NUH also provide emotional health services to support women’s mental wellness. These services help to identify emotional distress following pregnancy loss and could be a potential avenue to seek emotional help should you require support.
A miscarriage can be a traumatic event for you and your loved ones. Through this guide, we hope to have provided you with a better understanding of what to do after a miscarriage and possible support services that you may reach out to.
If there has been a case of medical negligence, getting acknowledgement of the mistake and an apology can help. Financial compensation may also help you get your life back on track. You may consider engaging a medical negligence lawyer who can advise you on whether you have a case of medical negligence and assist you with the gathering of evidence.
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