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The health ministry has yet to complete its labor on a new policy restricting home births. Responding to public criticism which followed Haaretz's recent disclosure of the new restrictive guidelines, the ministry's medical authority has decided to freeze implementation.

The health ministry has canceled a meeting scheduled for Tuesday at which the new guidelines were to be authorized.

Instead, the ministry will now hold consultations with health professionals, including a home birth midwives' organization.

Last week, Prof. Noam Zohar, head of the bioethics advanced studies division of Bar-Ilan University's philosophy department, and an expert in medical ethics, sent a letter to Dr. Hezi Levy, head of the health ministry's medical authority, complaining about the new guidelines restricting home births.

Zohar criticized the ministry's basic position, which held that hospital births must be the preferred option.

He wrote: "In a democratic society, a woman has the right to choose where she might undergo one of the most important experiences of her life, and where she will begin to bond with a child she will raise lovingly."

The ministry's position, Zohar wrote, constitutes "misbegotten discrimination" and unjustifiably minimizes the import of a mother's own choice. Criticism of the ministry's new guidelines focused on a clause requiring a mother who seeks home birth to furnish written consent from a family doctor, attesting to the mother's physical and mental health. Attaining such consent would be a precondition of home birth, under the new guidelines.

Zohar contends that "a decision to give birth at home has total moral and humanitarian validity, and no such outside authorization can be required."

Zohar also complained about terms and restrictions imposed on a consent form which a home birth mother would be required to fill out under the new guidelines. He said that "the form warns about the danger of only partial monitoring of the heartbeat of a woman involved in home birth; but there should also be a form authorizing consent to give birth in a hospital which warns that constant use of a heart monitor is liable to produce false alarms about decreases in heartbeat activity during periods of contractions, and could also lead to an unnecessary Caesarean section."

Zohar also complained that the ministry drafted these restrictive guidelines without consulting experts on home births. This, he argued in the letter, represented "a violation of basic professional ethics."

He referred to an "institutional and economic conflict of interests, since revenue accrued from low-risk births in hospitals is an important income source for hospitals."