History of Nursing in Pacific Canada

Reducing risk : caesarean section at Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital, 1950-1970 Mennill, Sally


Webcast sponsored by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and hosted by the Consortium and the BC History of Nursing Society. In the immediate post-WWII Years, the treatment of caesarean sections solidified and became entrenched in medical and social discourses. Canadian mothers and medical professionals embarked on a quarter-of-a-century consideration of how reduction of risk in c-sections could contribute to positive outcomes. This case study looks at the operation as it occurred at St. Paul’s Hospital, exploring social, technological, and professional changes in the operation through the lens of a large, urban, tertiary care facility to expose a shift to increased comfort with the operation. By examining medical records and prevailing medical and social discourses of the era, Sally Mennill traces this shift beyond the early-twentieth-century era of extreme caution with regard to surgical birth. Specifically, caesarean deliveries continued to take place in cases when the fetus had to be removed to prevent imminent death, but it was also relied upon increasingly in scenarios where the threat of death was not the primary determining factor. By the end of the 1960s, caesarean section had become an option even when existing records suggest that danger was not clear cut.

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