Friday, January 21, 2011

Even sadder times: Bad doctors, system failures, lost lives

Terrible news. Kermit Gosnell has made the news again. You might remember, we wrote about him in March when his medical office was discovered to be practicing abortion in improper ways and under unsafe conditions.

Now he has been charged with multiple counts of murder. I'm warning you, the story is long, sad and gross; also, both the article and the grand jury report have some unsourced descriptions and apparent speculation. But ignore those and the allegations are still clear. Investigators say that some of the wrongdoings are too old to press charges or too many files have been destroyed to amass sufficient evidence; nevertheless, from the evidence they did gather, they're charging Gosnell and several other people with the deaths of seven prematurely-delivered infants and one woman who sought his services. In fact, because of how much the piece (and all the headlines and abbreviated news pieces going around) lingers on the dead newborns, it's easy to miss the few lines mentioning that he and his staff caused the deaths of at least two women and injuries for many others.

Gosnell's lawyer, while maintaining that everyone's innocent until proven guilty and the case must have its day in court etc, also apparently attempted to mitigate Gosnell's actions by saying he "served patients in a low-income city neighborhood for decades." Would he really have us believe this is what serving the underserved looks like? It's not even like this happened in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming. It's west Philly. It's devastating that society, our insurance system and Medicaid laws, state regulators and medical services have abandoned some women to a situation where they can't obtain the safe, legal and ethical care available a few miles from them. The other side of the tracks may as well be the other side of the world.

Another stupid thing to say:
State regulators ignored complaints about Gosnell and the 46 lawsuits filed against him, and made just five annual inspections, most satisfactory, since the clinic opened in 1979. The inspections stopped completely in 1993 because of what prosecutors said was the pro-abortion rights attitude that set in after Democratic Gov. Robert Casey, an abortion foe, left office.
It strikes me as fucked up and crazy that someone would blame this disaster on a "pro-abortion rights attitude." No pro-choice person wants women to be injured and killed because they sought abortions! In fact, many people are pro-choice because they're aware that women risking injury and death is part of the status quo for most times and places in which abortion is illegal. If there were actually a pro-abortion-rights attitude in Pennsylvania government, they'd have been collaborating with experts who actually care about improving the quality of abortion care.

In fact, if more states did exactly that, then we wouldn't have situations like this in Pennsylvania on the one hand, and state agencies like Louisiana's shutting down clinics for no cause simply to prevent abortions on the other hand. (As Robin Rothrock -- RIP -- said at that time, "No one in their right mind would think the state of Louisiana is interested in quality abortion care. It is interesting that the state sees itself as an expert on these issues when it does not provide any such care, and when it prohibits use of any public dollars for abortion care, including training.")

The most frustrating, haunting thing in all of this is summed up by an excerpt from the March article:
More than a decade ago, CHOICE, a Philadelphia abortion referral service, contacted the state medical board about Gosnell because some of his patients had called CHOICE with appalling stories, said Brenda Green, the organization's executive director. "We were told that we could not file a complaint. It had to be a patient. It could not be a third party," Green said.

Reproductive health activists and Gilbert Abramson, a lawyer who filed the 2008 case that was later dropped, said they urged Gosnell's patients to file complaints with the state. But when the women learned that they would have to provide medical records and other forms, plus attend a hearing in Harrisburg, they changed their minds.
As Rob wrote at Abortion Gang yesterday, states keep getting the oversight wrong. Many states harass providers baselessly. Yet Gosnell was a concern of pro-choice advocates and case managers for years, but the medical board said only an actual patient could file a complaint. Apparently, the state can pursue an abortion clinic relentlessly and routinely without a particular basis, but review of a doctor in private practice (any doctor, not just an abortion provider) must be prompted by a patient. If this is true (confirm, anyone?), I just don't understand it.


  1. The Grand Jury Report mentioned the CHOICE group as having tried to report Gosnell to someone in authority (the State Board? DOH?) and were told that it couldn't be a third-party complaint. However, I think evidence was presented (perhaps testimony from a lawyer or one of the big-wigs at one of these organizations that should have had oversight) that these orgs *should* have received *any* complaint and investigated it. At the end, when the Grand Jury is making recommendations, they say that if a third-party cannot file a complaint, then that needs to be changed; and if they can and always have been able to file a complaint, then the employees of the organizations that refused to hear the complaint and/or take it seriously, should be reprimanded, fired, and/or educated about their duties.

    Perhaps some of the difference is that each state has separate rules and regulations, and some states are more willing to pursue abortionists while others are more willing to look the other way. Maybe it's the same sort of thing that often happens to families -- Child Protection Services are called on loving families over an exaggerated or outright false incident, and the children are taken from the families until the parents are proven innocent; yet CPS places some children with foster parents that abuse them, and nothing is done.

  2. Kathy, sorry for not responding earlier! Yes, it seems like it really is similar to CPS in a way. And I do wonder whether the people on the medical board and the DOH were misinformed about their duties/authority, under-motivated to go "looking for trouble," or what exactly.

    -placenta sandwich


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