Monday, July 08, 2013

A Safe and Legal Death and A Possible Criminal Abortion Death

On July 2, 1982, 23-year-old Darlene Wood was put under anesthesia for a second trimester abortion at Temple University Hospital. The abortionist was Renga Rajan; the anesthesiologist was William Stevenson-Smith. Darlene was given nitrous oxide by face mask. She started coughing after the procedure began.
After the abortion was completed, she was admitted to the respiratory intensive care unit, where she was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension. Over the next several days, Darlene experienced increasing respiratory distress. She was given medication to maintain her blood pressure. But on July 7, Darlene went into cardio-respiratory arrest. She was pronounced dead at 2:50 p.m. The administratrix of Darlene's estate contended that the lack of appropriate medical and anesthetic clearance was a substantial factor in her death.
Rajan was also successfully sued for the 1987 abortion death of Iris Velazquez.

The other death we commemorate today could be an illegal abortion death. I have yet to determine whether the woman had an abortion or simply developed infection from a miscarriage.

I was originally very skeptical about the "back-alley abortion" story told on the National Organization for Women web site. They said that Vivian Campbell was a recently-separated 24-year-old mother of two when she discovered she was pregnant. NOW indicated that Vivian sent her children to stay with her parents while she obtained some sort of illegal abortion. NOW provided no details of the abortion, but did say that Vivian asked for her estranged husband, who came to the hospital only after she had died of peritonitis on May 6, 1950. In Patricia Miller's The Worst of Times, the chapter "Gloria" has a woman telling of her mother's death, matching the story of Vivian Campbell enough to indicate that "Gloria's" mother was actually Vivian. Neither story has any details whatsoever of how the abortion was performed, or by whom, or even who was suspected or what police investigation took place.

"Gloria" indicated that she learned "the truth" of how her mother died when she needed a copy of the death certificate years later. The death certificate said "spontaneous abortion". Gloria clearly doesn't understand that this means a miscarriage; she took this as proof that her mother had obtained some sort of illegal abortion, much like Bill and Karen Bell misunderstood the word "abortion" on their daughter Becky's autopsy cover page, thought it meant an induced abortion, and assumed that it must have been a criminal or self-induced abortion.

I decided to check the story out when I was able to visit the archives of the Allegheny County Coroner's Office in Pittsburgh. I discovered that the abortion activists had their dates wrong -- Vivian died on July 7, not in May, of 1950. A coroner's inquest was unable to definitively determine if an abortion had been induced, though the doctor who treated Vivian clearly suspected that to be the case. Since the death certificate indicated "spontaneous abortion" -- a miscarriage -- even after the coroner's inquest, Vivian's death is one from an unverified abortion.

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