Newspaper: Some Florida Ob-Gyns are turning away overweight women; Ethics advocates call practice disturbing

View all news posts

By Bob LaMendola

The Sun Sentinel

In a nation with 93 million obese people, a few ob-gyn doctors in South Florida now refuse to see otherwise healthy women solely because they are overweight.

Fifteen obstetrics-gynecology practices out of 105 polled by the Sun Sentinel said they have set weight cut-offs for new patients starting at 200 pounds or based on measures of obesity — and turn down women who are heavier.

Some of the doctors said the main reason was their exam tables or other equipment can't handle people over a certain weight. But at least six said they were trying to avoid obese patients because they have a higher risk of complications.

"People don't realize the risk we're taking by taking care of these patients," said Dr. Albert Triana, whose two-physician practice in South Miami declines patients classified as obese. "There's more risk of something going wrong and more risk of getting sued. Everything is more complicated with an obese patient in GYN surgeries and in [pregnancies]."

Plantation ob-gyn partners Jeffrey Solomon and Isabel Otero-Echandi turn down any woman weighing more than 250 pounds.

Solomon and Otero don't want to begin seeing heavy women and then have to send them to specialists if they later develop problems, said their office manager, who asked not to be named. The two doctors, like several of the others with weight cutoffs, declined to comment.

"This is not a high-risk practice," the office manager said. "They are not experts in obesity."

Turning down overweight people is not illegal for doctors, but the policy worried leaders of physician groups, medical ethics experts and advocates for the obese, all of whom said it violates the spirit of the medical profession.

"If I had that policy, I wouldn't have a practice. I'd lose half my patients," said Dr. Maureen Whelihan, a West Palm Beach ob-gyn. "We never turn down anyone. We would see them, and if we had to, we would refer them to a specialist."

Leaders of eight local, state and national medical associations said they had never heard of doctors turning away patients solely because of weight. Several said obese people with no other health issues do not need special treatment.

"No doctor should be unable to treat patients just because they are heavy," said Dr. Bruce Zafran, a Coral Springs ob-gyn.

So far, the weight cutoffs have been enacted only by South Florida ob-gyns, who have long complained of high numbers of lawsuits after difficult births and high rates for medical-malpractice insurance. More than half go without coverage.

Ob-gyns for years have declined to see pregnant women who are overweight, typically sending them to specialists. It's new for them to turn down overweight women who are not pregnant, physician groups said.

Several ob-gyn offices said their ultrasound machines do not give good images of internal anatomy in obese women, making it harder to diagnose some medical problems.

The Plantation office manager said weight limits are not uncommon at offices owned, like hers, by the Coconut Grove medical services company VitalMD.

VitalMD treasurer Kerry Kuhn, an ob-gyn in Coral Springs, said he was unaware of his doctors setting weight limits, adding the company has nothing to do with doctor decisions.

"This is individual choice by a doctor," Kuhn said. "Doctors know who they want to treat."

Physicians, like any business, can decline service to whomever they choose for any reason — including personality conflicts — as long as it's not discriminatory. The American Medical Association advises doctors that they cannot reject patients because of race, gender, sexual orientation or infectious diseases.

Doctors also are allowed to drop patients, if they believe they lack the medical skills to properly treat them. They must send notices and refer them to other doctors.

But decisions about patients typically are made after assessing the individual's condition during an exam, not by ruling out an entire group, said Dr. Robert Yelverton, a board member of the Florida Obstetric and Gynecologic Society. He said he would discourage physicians from excluding the obese.

"Do I think it's a good policy? No," Yelverton said. "Overweight people need doctors. I don't know where a patient in that situation would go if every practice had that policy."

The AMA and the ob-gyn group declined to comment on doctors setting weight limits. A spokesman for the Obesity Action Coalition in Tampa said the restrictions sound like discrimination.

"This completely goes against the principles of being a doctor," James Zervios said. "Health care professionals are there to help individuals improve their quality of health, not stigmatize them according to their weight."

Attorneys of Ross Feller Casey, LLP have built a remarkable record of victories in Birth Injury related cases, amassing a long list of seven- and eight-figure verdicts and settlements. They include:

$22 million verdict in a birth injury case involving blood arriving late for a transfusion
$12 million recovery in a birth injury case
$8 million settlement for a child who suffered a brain injury due to a delay in delivery
$7 million recovery for a child left with cerebral palsy as a result of obstetrical negligence
$7 million settlement for a woman who died just after delivering a baby
$6 million settlement for an infant who suffered brain damage because a nurse midwife and nurses failed to manage fetal distress during labor
$5.5 million recovery for a child who was brain injured at birth because an obstetrician failed to recognize signs of placental abruption
$5.5 million settlement for the family of a 23-year-old woman who died after giving birth to her daughter


Disclaimer - Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


  • NBC
  • CNN
  • ABC
  • CBS
  • AP
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer

Contact us for an initial consultation

If you would like a member of our staff to contact you for a free initial consultation on your case, please complete this form, or call us toll-free at 215-515-4401.

  • Ross Feller Casey, LLP One Liberty Place 1650 Market St, Suite 3450 Philadelphia, PA 19103

    This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

    Because every case is different, the description of awards and cases previously handled do not guarantee a similar outcome in current or future cases.

    Copyright © 2016 Ross Feller Casey, LLP