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Kermit Gosnell, Medical Malpractice, and Criminal Charges

Few legal news stories have generated more debate and argument in recent weeks than that involving the horrific abortion clinic work of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Obviously abortion is an incredibly volatile issue with a myriad of political implications. Social networks have been alight as those urging the banning of all abortions verbally spar with those who support its legality in some circumstances.

However, beyond the emotional political drama raised by the case, the Gosnell matter is also an indication of the damage that a single doctor can cause who provides substandard medical care to countless patients. While the Gosnell case is an extreme example, it is still worthwhile to use it as a general reminder of the need to be incredibly vigilant when seeking out medical care, no matter what the medical issue.

Deadly Medical Care
The release of the detailed grand jury report in the case provides the most extensive information yet about Dr. Gosnell’s abortion clinic which has been dubbed a “House of Horrors.” According to a Global Dispatch story, the report explains how the doctor illegally delivered viable babies before killing them. Abortion laws vary by state, but every state has limits on when and how these very delicate events are handled.

On top of the illegal abortions, the doctor is accused of a wide range of reckless medical conduct that severely harmed (and even killed) female patients in his care. Of the many claims of malpractice include excessive use of dangerous medication, use of infected medical instruments, and perforation of female organs. Several patients had their bowels accidentally cut or their wombs injured. In other cases, women contracted venereal disease from the use of the unsterilized equipment. The report notes that at least two women died from the poor care they received from the doctor.

Sadly, the horrific medical care went on for years. Several former employees have already explained what was going on at the facility, with as many as eight of those employees already pleading guilty to crimes for their conduct.

Medical Malpractice and Murder
It is critical to understand the basic legal distinction in the Gosnell case. Most of the headlines and the grand jury report relate to the criminal murder charges that the doctor faces. This is separate from the over 40 medical malpractice cases that have also been filed against the doctor.

Most instances of malpractice do not implicate crimes at all, and the civil matters are the only legal case. That is because most malpractice is simple professional negligence. The doctor’s in these cases did not intend to make mistakes, but the accidents happened nonetheless. On the other hand, cases like the Gosnell matter rise way beyond mere negligence. The doctor knew that laws prohibited abortions in these circumstances, and so by performing the operations he intentionally took the life of the child–murder. That is why this criminal matter includes many different murder counts.

Obviously 99.9% of medical care providers share the country complete revulsion at the conduct in this case. Our hospitals and clinics are filled with wonderful and talented professionals who use their skills each day to help others. Yet, this stark situation is a reminder that there are a few, isolated exceptions. At the very least, all community members need to be aware that the possibility of truly chronically reckless caregivers exist. For that reason it is essential to take note of suspicious aspects of care and understand a doctor (or facility’s) reputation before agreeing to have services performed.

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