Saturday, November 26, 2011

Two Deaths Nearly 50 Years Apart

On November 26, 1923, 23-year-old Alice S. Johnson died at Chicago's West End Hospital from a criminal abortion performed there that day. The coroner identified Dr. Lorenz Lapsky as being responsible for Alice's death. Lapsky was indicted by a grand jury for felony murder on December 15. Alice's abortion was typical of criminal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

Fast-forward nearly half a century, to the era of safe and legal abortion.

"Monica" was a 31-year-old mother of five. She requested an abortion when she was 8 weeks pregnant, but the abortion was delayed about a month in order to address "some health, personal and administrative problems." Her doctor decided that it was best to simply remove Monica's uterus with the fetus still in it. The hysterectomy was done under general anesthesia with no apparent complications.

On the second day after surgery, Monica developed fever and nausea, and had no bowel sounds. The next day she felt unwell and had a distended abdomen. The next day, she felt better and resumed eating, but still had not had a bowel movement. Six days after the surgery, November 26, 1971, Monica began to scream and vomit. She reported severe abdominal pain and couldn't see. Within an hour of the onset of these symptoms, Monica died.

The autopsy revealed grim findings. Monica had a severe infection that had interfered with her bowel function. As she continued to eat but not to have bowel movements, her bowels backed up, allowing gastric juices to enter her lungs and begin to digest them. She also had bacteria in her brain, which may have caused her blindness in the final hour of her life.

I fail to see how the legality of her abortion was any benefit to her, or to her family, or to the medical professionals who struggled to save her life. It was, however, clearly beneficial to the abortionist, who was not prosecuted for his patient's agonizing death.

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