Doctor Threatens to Call Police on Lisa Epsteen After She Delays C-Section

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A pregnant woman was stunned to read an email from her obstetrician threatening to call the police if she did not come in for a caesarean section.

Lisa Epsteen, 35, chose Dr. Jerry Yankowitz because of her high-risk pregnancy. He is the chairman of the University of South Florida’s department of obstetrics and gynecology.

She was over her due date and had an alarming ultrasound.

Though her doctors urged her to get a caesarean section, she said she wanted to wait until Friday to schedule it. It would be her fifth one.

On Wednesday morning, she woke up to an email from her doctor threatening to send police to her home if she did not immediately come to the hospital for a delivery.

“I am deeply concerned that you are contributing to a very high probability that your fetus will die or your child will incur brain damage if born alive. At this time, you must come in for delivery,” Yankowitz wrote. “I would hate to move to the most extreme option, which is having law enforcement pick you up at your home and bring you in, but you are leaving the providers of USF/TGH no choice.”

This set Epsteen into a panic.

“In a couple of hours there are going to be cops on my doorstep taking me away from home - in front of my children - to force me into having surgery,” she thought. “There are any number of things that they could have done without threatening me.”

When she was in the process of choosing a doctor shortly after learning of her pregnancy, she joined several advocacy groups for women wishing to attempt a vaginal birth after caesarean. That’s how she found Yankowitz, who decided to take on her high-risk case and serve as a liaison to other USF obstetricians.

Three hours after she received that threatening email, a lawyer contacted Yankowitz and told him to “stop immediately any further threats or actions against Ms. Epsteen.”

“Pregnant women are no different than anybody else in terms of their constitutional and human rights,” attorney Farah Diaz-Tello said. “The threat he was making was both legally and ethically unjustifiable.”

Soon, a nurse called Epsteen to confirm her C-section was scheduled for Friday.

A spokeswoman for USF said they could not confirm or comment on the matter because of patient privacy regulations.

“Honestly, I felt abandoned. There has to be a level of trust between provider and patient, and that has been betrayed,” Epsteen said. “It’s circumstances like this that make women feel like they have no options but to birth their babies on their own - and put themselves in more dangerous circumstances - because they feel bullied.”

It was last Friday when she was urged to think about having the caesarean. Epsteen had gestational diabetes and the baby was not in a good position for vaginal delivery.

But it was the ultrasound on Tuesday which sparked the urgency, as it showed the fetus was in possible distress. They sent her to Tampa General to deliver immediately, but Epsteen said she wanted to wait. Her 2-year-old son was with her and she didn’t want to leave him alone, and her husband was working.

Yankowitz later emailed her again and said, “I personally recognize and respect your right to make the medical treatment decisions for both you and your unborn that regard, please understand my frustration as I truly believe you and your child are in jeopardy.”