Cerebral Palsy and Criteria Implicating Intrapartum Hypoxia in Neonatal Encephalopathy – An Obstetric Perspective for the South African Setting

I Bhorat, E Buchmann, P Soma-Pillay, E Nicolaou, L Pistorius, I Smuts


The science surrounding cerebral palsy indicates  that it is a complex medical condition with multiple contributing variables and factors, and causal pathways are often extremely difficult to delineate. The pathophysiological processes are often juxtaposed on antenatal factors, genetics, toxins, fetal priming, failure of neuroscientific autoregulatory mechanisms, abnormal biochemistry and abnormal metabolic pathways. Placing this primed compromised compensated brain through the stresses of an intrapartum process could be the final straw in the pathway  to brain injury and later CP.  It is thus simplistic to base causation of cerebral palsy on only an intrapartum perspective with radiological ‘confirmation’, as is often the practice in medicolegal cases in South African courts. The present modalities (MRI and CTG when available) that retrospectively attempt to determine causation in courts are inadequate when used in isolation. Unless a holistic scientific review of the case including all contributing clinical factors (antepartum, intrapartum and neonatal), fetal heart rate monitoring, neonatal MRI if possible (and preferred) or late MRI, and histology (placental histology if performed) are taken into account, success for plaintiff or defendant currently in a court of law will depend on eloquent legal argument rather than true scientific causality. The 10 criteria set out in this document to implicate acute intrapartum hypoxia in hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy/neonatal encephalopathy serve as a guideline in the medicolegal setting.

Authors' affiliations

I Bhorat, University of KwaZulu-Natal College of Health Sciences

E Buchmann, University of Witwatersrand

P Soma-Pillay, University of Pretoria

E Nicolaou, University of Witwatersrand

L Pistorius, University of Stellenbosch

I Smuts, Paediatric Neurology

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Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2021;111(3b):280-288. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2021.v111i3b.15399

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-03-31
Date published: 2021-03-31

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