Friday, August 21, 2009

1923: Denver woman dies, doc on city council arrested

On August 21, 1923, 32-year-old Catherine Stange died in Denver of septicemia due to an abortion blamed on Dr. Daniel R. Lucy. This was quite the scandal, since in addition to being a doctor, Lucy was a city councilman.

His high position also meant that he was given warning of his pending arrest for second degree murder, to give him time to arrange bail.

Lucy's only comment to the press after being told of the charge against him was to note that he was not surpirsed, that this was what he had expected from the coroner's jury.

He was later acquitted of the charges.

Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

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army_wife said...

Here's an article I just found that I believe Granny Grump and everyone here will find interesting (although sad). It's about hospital medication errors resulting in accidental abortions and premature births.

I do think that most doctors could be a little more careful with their handwriting, but the person dispensing and administering the medication (usually a nurse) needs to be extremely careful - double, triple check prescriptions and dosages, and if you're giving a labor-inducing drug to a pregnant woman who is not near term for heaven's sake you might want to verify with the doctor before giving it to her.

When you have a job where you hold people's literal life and death in your hands you really need to watch it. I've heard of many other stories about simple carelessness in hospitals having tragic results.

Kathy said...

Oh, wow, that is sad!!!

You are right that there should have been some sort of double-checking or triple-checking going on. If the nurse mis-read the doctor's scrawl, then talking to the patient about the drug would have prevented the mix-up. Something as simple as looking at her chart to see that she was not hospitalized for miscarriage or fetal demise (an indication for Prostin) but was on bed-rest to prolong her pregnancy, could have prevented it. Granted, sometimes they do need to induce women pre-term, but, again, this should be in the chart!

I'm not a nurse, but I used to work at a retail pharmacy, and, yes, we made our share of mistakes, but we also caught a lot before they went out the door. It was a big ol' pain in the butt to track down doctors when we couldn't tell what they wrote, but it was sure better than dispensing the wrong meds! We would often verify the meds with the patient if there was some difficulty or uncertainty with reading the prescription (for instance, making sure they needed ear drops and not eye drops; anything not easily clarified by talking to the patient, we called the doctor).

I do read a lot of L&D nurses' blogs, and with some regularity they all talk about some doctors who they don't like working with, so I can see hesitancy in "questioning" some doctors, for fear of an @$$-chewing. That's no excuse! But understandable.

army_wife said...

Yeah, I don't want to come off as though I think it's ALL the nurses' fault or completely rag on nurses. I've had contact with great nurses and not-so-great nurses. There are always a few bad apples in any profession and I try not to assume they're ALL bad apples.

I understand the difficulties of having to work with/under someone who is, well, a jerk. I just think that when the amount of attention you give your job literally means life or death for someone else, it's sometimes worth a butt chewing or some extra hassle to make sure these things are done right.

It's ironic that we were just talking about preventable tragedy in relation to the foster-care/child protective services subject, and this is the same sort of preventable tragedy - in a healthcare/hospital context. I never really thought about the two different areas in the same vein before but it strikes me - in either field (medical or social services), if a worker gets careless someone could die, or be emotionally/physically scarred for life.

That's why I wouldn't personally like to work in either of those fields - I could never make a mistake without potentially hurting someone else, even indirectly. I do have to say that even though nursing isn't my thing (I wouldn't like to poke someone with a needle for any reason), if I hypothetically had to pick any area of nursing as a career, I'd pick L&D nurse. So much hope and promise. I love the pregnancy process and L&D as well as babies, of course! Pregnancy can sometimes be uncomfortable and labor certainly is painful, but the baby makes it all worthwhile. That's how I feel when they lay my babies in my arms the first time, anyway. What a thing to get to witness every day at your job! :-)

The only problem with being an L&D nurse in this country and in this day and age is the concern of your superiors attempting to force you to participate in abortions on the L&D floor. There are enough natural tragedies to deal with in L&D (miscarriages/stillbirths, etc.) without adding an intentional tragedy, and being forced to assist the executioner, so to speak. :-(

Kathy said...

You have to love birth to be a good L&D nurse. But there are an awful lot of downsides to it too -- fetal demises are probably #1.

One of the nurse blogs I read just recently put up the story from NYC (I think), of a pro-life nurse who was forced to attend and assist with an abortion. She tried to get out of it numerous ways, including reminding the nurse manager that she had told them on being hired that she would not assist at abortions and was told that was fine; and was finally told that the mother would die without an abortion (which was false), in order to ultimately coerce her into assisting. She is suing over this. Several nurses chimed in saying that their hospitals have policies that if you don't want to attend abortions, that's fine, and they've never heard of anything like this. Others said (kinda snarkily) "If she was so set against abortions, she shouldn't work in L&D to start with." The general tenor of the conversation, though, was that this nurse was probably "being taught a lesson" by somebody with attitude or something, because of how easy it would be to switch assignments (it appeared that the nurse came on shift fairly early in the morning, and the abortion was scheduled for soon after lunch, so there were hours and hours to find **someone** else, anyone else, to assist).

So, yeah, it would suck, but it is apparently rare. Nobody said, "Oh, yeah, that happens all the time in my hospital" or anything like that.

And, yes, the L&D nurses whose blogs I read do frequently talk about the "high" they get from being able to witness births. I'm a birth junkie, too. ;-)

army_wife said...

I should hope it is a rare thing. I think that nobody should be forced to participate in something they believe is morally wrong, even if it IS "legal".

Something that really burns me about the other L&D nurses that made snarky comments - Labor and Delivery is all about DELIVERING BABIES (and caring for stillbirths and miscarriages sometimes)... not KILLING babies intentionally. It's about nurturing and assisting in the pregnancy/childbirth process (the NATURAL processes of womens' reproductive health). It's about LIFE, not DEATH. It's asinine to pollute a place that should be full of hope and healing with abortion.

I don't understand how those L&D nurses can go from coaching a mother during a delivery and all those happy things, and then go to the next patient and help her as she "chooses" to willfully kill her child. I don't know how they can make that monumental shift from helping bring forth life to ending it forever. I understand from the book Lime 5 that it does create conflict in doctors/medical personnel who do both OB care and abortion. I just don't understand how they can live with that kind of huge conflict within themselves.

army_wife said...

Uh, sorry about that. I don't have any idea why my comment posted so many times. (?!?!) Unless it was because my 20-month-old kept messing with the keyboard while I was trying to post... oops.

How embarassing. GG - if you decide to remove the extra posts, I want to say I'm sorry in advance for the time you'll have to waste doing it. Sheesh.

Kathy said...

I just don't understand how they can live with that kind of huge conflict within themselves.

One of the nurses said that she assists at abortions. She says she absolutely hates it, but she believes in "choice" and thinks the woman should have a compassionate care-giver when she has an abortion. I guess she'd rather be a friendly face that makes abortion easier on the woman than risk having a more pro-life nurse make the woman feel bad for killing her child? I guess when your conscience is seared so much that you can sacrifice babies at the altar of choice, what else is there? They must be so empty -- just have to shut down internally to live with themselves, I guess.

Christina Dunigan said...

No problem deleting accidental multiple posts. I've accidentally multiposted sometimes too.