Meet Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
A doctor whose practice focused on abortions, Gosnell was arrested in 2011. His trial started last month. He’s been charged with eight counts of murder from gross medical malpractice: an adult patient, Karnamaya Monga, died. It is also alleged that seven infants were killed after being born. (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57579424-504083/dr-kermit-gosnell-murder-trial-unlicensed-doc-fled-pa-abortion-clinic-raid-receptionist-testifies/) You can find the grand jury report here: http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/pdfs/grandjurywomensmedical.pdf
Gosnell has since voluntarily surrendered his medical license. The Pennsylvania Department of State indicates that there was disciplinary action or corrective history but doesn’t list the details. That requires a separate email. I wonder how many of Gosnell’s patients took advantage of this. I wonder if they got answers before they had to make their decision. Would it have made any difference?
People aren’t just one thing. The former doctor was an Ivy League undergrad from the University of Pennsylvania before graduating from Dickson. It is true that he was not a board certified ob-gyn, but that isn’t required. Patients have to know the importance of that for themselves. Donda West was a college professor with a wealthy son, but apparently didn’t understand or want to accept that her cardiac condition made her a poor choice for cosmetic surgery (http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2008/01/17/autopsy-of-kanye-wests-mother-underscores-surgery-risks). People who are not informed medical consumers with agency and advocacy can put themselves in terrible positions.
Gosnell was also known for his charitable endeavors. But if any portion of these allegations is true, he is a monster who plied his trade mostly among the most vulnerable: poor women of color and immigrants. He ran what became a criminal enterprise.
This is not a pro-life rant. I agree with Katie Baker of Jezebel. “But his business was able to thrive because of limited access to reproductive choice, not because of reproductive choice itself.”
But that leaves the tangle of class, color, gender, poverty and access untouched. Where was the word of mouth to shut this clinic down? What were these women used to? Did they think they deserved this?
Gosnell’s not the only black doctor to become prosperous while practicing/serving low income communities. I’m sure that things at least began with him “giving back” to the community. Anyone who remembers Jerry Sandusky and the priest scandals must know that we can never surrender our children. They need our protection and oversight. Always. Even in charitable endeavors or with the well meaning.
Along the way, Gosnell became wealthy. He grew older. Corners were cut until things reached this stage:
“The ‘Women’s Medical Society.’ That was the impressive-sounding name of the clinic operated in West Philadelphia, at 38th and Lancaster, by Kermit B. Gosnell, M.D. Gosnell seemed impressive as well. A child of the neighborhood, Gosnell spent almost four decades
running this clinic, giving back – so it appeared – to the community in which he continued to live and work.
But the truth was something very different, and evident to anyone who stepped inside. The clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. Medical equipment – such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff – was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn’t used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut. And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains. It was a baby charnel (a repository for the bodies or bones of the dead) house.” (http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/pdfs/grandjurywomensmedical.pdf)
Did these women reveal what had happened to them? It wasn’t just the filth. It was the cruelty and indifference. If the allegations are true, this could only have been done to people you considered less than human. And what was it like to work in this stench? How desperate were these workers? The image of people pretending to be licensed medical professionals, insisting on the use of titles is the black bourgeoisie nightmare, the triumph of style over substance, even reality. My heart broke when I read this. It’s like seeing charter schools with hopeful names like Ivie Academy which might be calmer and safer — good things — but produce no better results than the public school down the street. More from the grand jury report:
“The people who ran this sham medical practice included no doctors other than Gosnell himself, and not even a single nurse. Two of his employees had been to medical school, but neither of them were licensed physicians. They just pretended to be. Everyone called them “Doctor,” even though they, and Gosnell, knew they weren’t. Among the rest of the staff, there was no one with any medical licensing or relevant certification at all. But that didn’t stop them from making diagnoses, performing procedures, administering drugs.”
As for the lower level workers, I don’t know their situations, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d graduated from the DeVrys or American Career Colleges with real pride at having a career. What other options did they have? Living and working in the neighborhood no doubt made transportation, child care and live more manageable.
So what was the result?
“Because the real business of the “Women’s Medical Society” was not health; it
was profit. There were two primary parts to the operation. By day it was a prescription
mill; by night an abortion mill. A constant stream of “patients” came through during
business hours and, for the proper payment, left with scripts for Oxycontin and other
controlled substances, for themselves and their friends. Gosnell didn’t see these
“patients”; he didn’t even show up at the office during the day. He just left behind blank,
pre-signed prescription pads, and had his unskilled, unauthorized workers take care of the
rest. The fake prescriptions brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. “
Why didn’t his black professional colleagues step in? Did no one notice the stench or see the bloodstains? And if so, why the silence?
What about his wife who shared in the profits and helped on the special, late term abortions that were performed in apparent secrecy on Sundays.
I was struck by this paragraph in the grand jury report:
“Pennsylvania is not a third-world country. There were several oversight agencies
that stumbled upon and should have shut down Kermit Gosnell long ago. But none of
them did, not even after Karnamaya Mongar’s death. In the end, Gosnell was only
caught by accident, when police raided his offices to seize evidence of his illegal
Underfunded derided agencies. I you read this without thinking about child abuse, foster care and so and so on, you haven’t been listening.
If ever there were a third world in the first world, it is America’s rust belt and her inner, inner cities – the places where gentrification doesn’t reach. The intersection of health care or lack thereof, deindustrialization, poor education, racial loyalty, access come together and create horror shows. Dr. Gosnell had the same freedom in West Philly’s black community that serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer had in Milwaukee. Monsters walking among us, unchallenged and emboldened.
I expect that Dr. Gosnell’s friends will celebrate his good works. I hope they will also ask, how did we get here? And how can we get away from this? Especially those who can’t pick up and run to the better neighborhood?
For the rest of us? See, know, act.