Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dr Kermit Gosnell's Chamber of Horrors

Dr Kermit Gosnell was until recently an abortion provider in Philadelphia.  When a raid was conducted against his facility, euphemistically referred to as the Family and Women's Medical Society, what FBI agents and state police discovered horrified them. 

Wikipedia gives a detailed overview of the case here. Among many other things, the Grand Jury investigation reported that:
“[F]etal remains [were] haphazardly stored throughout the clinic– in bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons, and even in cat-food containers ... Gosnell admitted to Detective Wood that at least 10 to 20 percent ... were probably older than 24 weeks [the legal limit] ... In some instances, surgical incisions had been made at the base of the fetal skulls. The investigators found a row of jars containing just the severed feet of fetuses. In the basement, they discovered medical waste piled high. The intact 19-week fetus delivered by Mrs. Mongar three months earlier was in a freezer. In all, the remains of 45 fetuses were recovered ... at least two of them, and probably three, had been viable.”
Gosnell's cases are now before the courts. He is facing a long litany of charges, including 4 of first-degree murder for killing viable babies after they were delivered.  His method was to 'snip' the spinal cord.

Was it all about the money? Gosnell was taking in $10,000-$15,000 a night for abortions, as well as - according to the authorities - filling out thousands of prescriptions per month for controlled and much sought-after drugs, often allowing people to walk out of the Family and Women's Medical Society with multiple prescriptions under different names, for which Gosnell was receiving as much as $150 per visit.  The turnover from prescriptions alone could have amounted to more than a million dollars each year.

In this case the list of illegalities and inhumane abuses of just about every boundary of human decency goes on and on. I will not trouble the reader by going through them all, but they do deserve to be read carefully and understood for what they are.

What is striking about the case of the Family and Women's Medical Society is not that Gosnell and his staff team could have done what he did in today's America.  It does not surprise me that someone could be willing to kill babies for a living and call it kindness.  The pages of human history run red with the deeds of ordinary people.

Quite apart from Gosnell himself, there are two things about this case which really deserve comment. 

One is that the  authorities again and again  overlooked, ignored and turned a blind eye to what Gosnell was doing.  The Philadelphia Department of Health had plenty of warnings.  Ironically even the raid, when it finally came, was because of the illegal prescriptions.  Later it turned out that none of Philadelphia's 22 abortion clinics had been inspected for 15 years.  For political reasons, under a pro-choice Governor, health officials deliberately stopped inspecting abortion clinics.  The Grand Jury stated that "Even nail salons in Pennsylvania are monitored more closely for client safety." The reason given by health officials was that inspections might be "putting a barrier up to women" exercising their right to choose.  So the right to choose trumps all other considerations of morality and human decency.

The second thing which deserves comment is that the US media was slow to pick up the story.  Megan McArdell, writing for the Daily Beast, commented:
I'll tell you why I haven't covered it.
To start, it makes me ill.  I haven't been able to bring myself to read the grand jury inquiry. I am someone who cringes when I hear a description of a sprained ankle.
But I understand why my readers suspect me, and other pro-choice mainstream journalists, of being selective—of not wanting to cover the story because it showcased the ugliest possibilities of abortion rights. The truth is that most of us tend to be less interested in sick-making stories—if the sick-making was done by "our side." 
I had to smile grimly when I read that Marton Barron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, responded to criticism about the media silence by saying, with apparent pride, "we never decide what to cover for ideological reasons, no matter what critics might claim".  Of course the whole point about ideological bias is that those who exhibit it are not self-aware enough to recognize it.

Abortions after 24 weeks are intrinsically tragic and horrible.  They require the death of a viable child, whether outside the womb, as Gosnell is alleged to have done again and again to breathing, moving, crying infants, or inside the womb.  Either way the procedure results in a corpse, the dead body of the infant. I will never be able to understand why taking a viable baby's life inside the womb is more moral than killing it outside the womb, as Gosnell did.

I remember speaking once at length with a pastoral carer who had worked as a chaplain at a leading Australian women's hospital.  One of the functions this person had been asked to perform from time to time was funeral services for later-term infants aborted for psycho-social reasons.  These sad ceremonies, complete with tearful words of farewell, testify to the fact that the parents did not regard the fetus merely as a tissue to be discarded but as a lost child which needed to be grieved.  In recent decades it has been recognized that the loss of a child through miscarriage or some other misadventure can cause deep wounds of grief for the mother, so I do not find it at all surprising that some parents, having aborted a child, would also choose to grieve their loss.

I live in the state of Victoria, where it is legal to abort a baby up to 40 weeks.  It is legal to terminate a viable fetus inside the womb right up to birth.  Outside it would be murder.  This gruesome fact about the state where I live is deeply shameful and painful to contemplate.

Abortion is an unpleasant business, the later the more so.  Being an abortionist is not the most respected branch of the medical profession and only a  small proportion of the medial profession are willing to make this their living.    Here in Victoria there are abortion clinics unable to function because they cannot find doctors willing to perform procedures.  The Age newspaper reported that the Marie Stopes Clinic's Dr Mark Schulberg was the only medical practitioner in Australia willing to perform late-term surgical abortions.  However even Marie Stopes recently ceased doing abortions past 24 weeks gestation.  Their reputation had suffered after a high-profile case in which Dr James Peter, an anesthetist with a known drug habit, was accused of (and later pleaded guilty to) infecting 55 women with Hepatitis C (see here).  He used to inject himself before he injected the women who were undergoing abortions. 

Why would a medical clinic employ an anaesthetist who had been previously suspended for a drug habit?  The answer most likely is that he was the best they could get. The Age also reported that:
Marie Stopes Australian chief executive Maria Deveson Crabbe said the decision to discontinue late-term abortions was unconnected with any investigations into the clinic and was made purely for operational reasons. Ms Crabbe said Marie Stopes remained supportive of women's access to late-term abortion.
(It is an irony that Marie Stopes bears the name it does, as the real Marie Stopes, although pro-eugenics, considered abortion to be 'evil' and 'murder'.  She ensured that all nursing staff at her clinic swore not to "impart any information or lend any assistance whatsoever to any person calculated to lead to the destruction in utero of the products of conception."  See here.)

We were told that legalizing abortions would make them safer. This is the official narrative.  For the patients of Dr James Peter and Dr Kermit Gosnell this did not turn out to be true.

Here in Victoria our politicians pushed the boundaries to their limits in 2008 when they made abortion virtually freely available up to full term, subject to securing two doctors's assent.  The cynic might say that any two Gosnells would do.  The law also compels doctors with conscientious objections to abortion to refuse to treat their patients and to make an effective referral to a medical practitioner who does not object.  Even a doctor with a conscientious objection to sex-selective abortion is compelled to refer a patient seeking an abortion for this reason to another doctor without such scruples.

We live in a state of denial about the reality of late-term abortion. Gosnel was a wake-up call.  So too was the conviction of Dr James Peter, the drug-addicted anaesthetist. When will we, as a society, come to terms with what a late-term abortion really IS.


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