Monday, September 26, 2011

Two doctors, two deaths. What do we know?

Mrs. Annie Heaney, age 50, died at Post Graduate Hospital in Chicago on September 26, 1906, from complications of a criminal abortion performed there that day. Physician Jonathan L. Miller was arrested in the death.

Let's for the sake of argument assume that abortion is a legitimate medical procedure. We have no way of knowing if Dr. Miller committed malpractice, if he did anything stupid or irresponsible or inexcusable to cause Annie's death, or if it was just a flukey thing, an infection in the days before antibiotics, an accidental nick to a vital artery in the days before blood transfusions. We can't know if Annie had any way of judging Miller's skill before entrusting her life to him. But let's flash forward to different cases where we have more information.

On September 17, 1990, 17-year-old Sophie McCoy went to the office of National Abortion Federation member Abu Hayat (pictured). The National Abortion Federation is an organization that puts out standards that its members are supposed to adhere to. We don't know if Sophie and her mother chose Hayat because of his NAF membership. We do know, though, that if Sophie and her mother had called a hotline asking for a referral to a safe facility with the highest standards of care, Hayat's facility would be on the list.

You can contrast what NAF promised in members with the care Sophie actually received by clicking her name and reading her story. You can also read contemporary New York Times coverage here.

Hayat's name might seem vaguely familiar. That's because he made headlines about a year after he killed Sophie, after he started an illegal third-trimester abortion on a woman named Rosa Rodriguez. Hayat told Rosa that he would have to finish the abortion the next day and sent her home with very specific instructions not to go to a hospital or to any other doctor if she suffered any complications. Unable to get Hayat to help here with the severe pain she was experiencing, Rosa went to a hospital, where she delivered her baby girl, 32 weeks of gestational age and missing her right arm, which Hayat had pulled off during the abortion attempt.

Keep in mind that both Sophie's death and the maiming of Rosa's baby happened while Hayat was a member in good standing of the National Abortion Federation.

Unlike in Annie Heaney's case, where we have no information on the reputation of her doctor, or of whether he behaved in such a way as to callously endanger her, we do have information about Sophie's situation. It seems a stretch to try to blame Annie's death on laws telling doctors not to do to patients what Miller did to her. It seems a bit less of a stretch to blame the death of Sophie McCoy, and the maiming of little Ana Rosa Rodriguez (pictured), on a reputable and respected prochoice organization that promised safety and high standards, but delivers the likes of Abu Hayat.

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