The Korea Herald


Women protest ministry's ban on simultaneous use of childbirth pain meds

By Park Jun-hee

Published : June 12, 2024 - 15:34

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A backlash is coming from South Korea's pregnant women over the Health Ministry's decision not to allow the simultaneous use of epidurals and a continuous local anesthetic colloquially referred to as a "pain buster" here during childbirth starting next month, lambasting the government for restricting womens' right to choose.

The ministry has recently announced that pregnant women will no longer be able to use epidurals and pain busters, also known as severe pain relievers that ensure proper and sufficient postoperative wound infiltration, when they give birth through Cesarean section beginning July 1. A pain buster will only be allowed to be used in cases when an epidural can't be administered, it said.

As the scheme faced heavy criticism from soon-to-be mothers, the ministry on Wednesday explained that the decision was made after reviewing a report written by the National Evidence-based Healthcare Collaborating Agency, which suggested that there is no significant difference in pain relief effectiveness between using an epidural alone and using it with a pain buster, shrugging off concerns from pregnant women concerned about coping with the severe pain of childbirth.

A pain buster is a local anesthetic used directly at the surgical site and has been used for pregnant women undergoing a Cesarean section, the most preferred method of delivery in Korea, which involves making a physical incision in the abdomen.

The ministry added that it also collected opinions from various groups, such as the Korean Society of Anesthesiologists, that simultaneous use of the two drugs is only necessary for "severely ill patients" or "patients who can't adequately manage their pain."

Regarding reports that epidurals would be charged as a non-insured service, the ministry said it's untrue, adding that it's covered by the state health insurance coverage.