12:47 PM / Thursday September 28, 2023

6 Feb 2011

The arrest of Dr. Kermit Gosnell leaves as many questions as it answers

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February 6, 2011 Category: Local Posted by:

By Denise Clay


It just wasn’t the right time.


Karnamaya Mongar had just arrived in Virginia with her husband and three kids, anxious to begin a new life in a new country. She had spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Nepal after fleeing political prosecution in her native Bhutan. The family was just getting settled in and adjusting to America, the land that granted them asylum.


She couldn’t have another baby right now, said her brother, Damber Ghalley.


PHOTO: This undated photo released by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office shows Karnamaya Mongar and her husband, Mr. Mongar, no first name given. According to the District Attorney’s Office, the 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar suffered a fatal drug overdose during an abortion procedure at the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia. Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who catered to minorities, immigrants and poor women at the Women’s Medical Society, was charged Wednesday Jan. 19, 2011, with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, prosecutors said Wednesday.

(AP Photo/Philadelphia District Attorney)


“When she came here, she was hoping for better days,” he said. “She was learning new things that she could use for work. She got pregnant, but she didn’t want to keep the baby because she wasn’t settled here yet.”


In desperation, she went to see her regular doctor at 19 weeks along to find out what she could do.


That doctor sent her to Dr. Kermit Gosnell at West Philadelphia’s Women’s Medical Society for an abortion.


Mongar never returned home. She went into cardiac arrest after being given several doses of a variety of sedatives including Demerol without being monitored by Gosnell, who left the responsibility of Mongar’s care to his untrained staff.


After spending 20 minutes getting her out of the clinic, paramedics took her to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in an attempt to save her life.


Mongar died there instead.


“She wound up at the wrong clinic and in the wrong person’s hand,” Ghalley said. “She was a healthy woman who had no other disease as far as I knew. The children miss their mother day and night.”


“The sunshine has gone from our family.”


Bad gas station rest room

Dr. Gosnell was arrested last week and charged with third degree murder in Mongar’s death.


PHOTO: A police care is parked outside the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who catered to minorities, immigrants and poor women at the clinic, was charged Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, prosecutors said.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)


The doctor and several members of his staff have also been charged with seven counts of first degree murder in the deaths of seven babies who were born alive, but had been killed by either having their throats slit or spinal cords severed with a pair of scissors.


The Grand Jury report, which was unveiled last week when Dr. Gosnell was arrested, showcases a clinic that one of the investigating officers called “A bad gas station restroom” and that District Attorney Seth Williams termed a “house of horrors” where botched and illegal abortions were performed, anesthesia was administered by the 15-year-old daughter of one of the doctor’s employees and conditions were so unsanitary that only a woman in dire straits would even think of having anything done there.


According to the Grand Jury report, there were bags of medical waste including the bodies of dead fetuses in the clinic’s freezer and basement. The clinic smelled of cat urine and feces. Bloodstained blankets were scattered everywhere. The fish tank in the office was obviously unclean.


“The clinic was dirty; it seemed dirty and small,” said Ghalley, who accompanied his sister and her daughter Yashoda to Mongar’s appointment. “The floor was dirty. But I saw other women there, so I thought that everything was okay. So she decided to do it.”


When she went into the room for her procedure, Mongar was given doses of at least five drugs including Demerol and Dizapam to sedate her for the procedure. The sedation caused her to go into cardiac arrest and because Dr. Gosnell wasn’t on the premises to make sure that things were okay, there were complications.


Mongar had gone into cardiac arrest.


“I didn’t know what was going on until the ambulance came and picked her up,” Ghalley said. “There was a crowd of people yelling, screaming and crying. The ambulance came and tried to take her into the hospital, but the front door was so narrow no stretcher could get through. The side door was padlocked and they had to use bolt cutters to get it open. I grabbed both [my sister and my niece] over my shoulder and took them to the hospital.”


But while he knew that his sister was in trouble, Ghalley didn’t know that the cause of that trouble was the cocktail of medications that she had been given until the Grand Jury report was released.


“We were not sure about all these things,” Ghalley said. “We didn’t know it was that horrible. Now we know and the truth has come out. He was more concerned about money than about people. I lost my sister to a non-civil person who showed her no mercy.”


The high price of desperation

The family has filed a wrongful death suit against Dr. Gosnell. According to Bernard Smalley of Anapol Schwartz, the attorney that is representing the family, the suit seeks punitive damages.


About 20 years ago, Smalley took Dr. Gosnell to court on behalf of another client, and because of that experience agreed to help Mongar’s family. He was also surprised to see that the doctor had managed to keep his practice running following that suit.


“He had punctured the woman’s uterus and there was a large amount of bleeding and she had permanent damage from that,” Smalley said. “From that day to this, I thought that he would have been stopped. But he wasn’t.”


But he wasn’t shut down for lack of trying. According to the Grand Jury report, there were a lot of people at various agencies who were informed about Dr. Gosnell and could have stopped his activities.


Former employees of the Women’s Medical Society filed complaints with the Pennsylvania Department of State and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, according to the report. In one instance, a letter had been hand-carried to the Pennsylvania Department of Health by Dr. Donald Schwarz, Philadelphia’s current Health Commissioner.


But until the clinic was raided by the FBI and the District Attorney’s office for illegal prescription drug violations last February, no one knew just how bad things were.


The details of live babies being murdered, the remains of aborted fetuses being bagged up and either frozen or put in the basement (because Dr. Gosnell was late paying his medical disposal bills) and the jars of baby feet preserved in formaldehyde horrified the nation.


The scene also horrified Dayle Steinberg, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. While they had heard about the dirtiness of the facility and other complaints regarding the Women’s Medical Center, they had no idea of the heinous acts that have been alleged.


“If we had had an inkling of what was actually going on there, we would have gone to the Department of Health right away,” she said. “He was nowhere near the standard of care for abortion providers.”


That standard includes high-quality affordable care, clean places, and adherence to healthcare protocols and local laws.


The National Abortion Federation determines what the standard of care is for abortion providers and determines whether or not a clinic can gain membership to the organization. NAF came to visit the Women’s Medical Center and found it lacking, so lacking in fact that it failed to qualify for NAF membership.


But for women who find themselves in the straits that the women who went to Dr. Gosnell for care found themselves in, shopping around wasn’t an option, Steinberg said.


That reality made what happened to them when they got there even more tragic. “When women have nowhere else to turn, they turn to people like Dr. Gosnell,” she said. “For a lot of women, $5 can make a difference. They don’t worry about the quality of the service. Medicaid in Pennsylvania only covers abortion in cases of rape, incest and if the life of the mother would be ended if the pregnancy continued. It’s very restrictive.”


While Planned Parenthood charges $395 for first trimester abortions with local anesthesia, Dr. Gosnell charged $1,600 to $2,400 for his services. He did abortions without waiting for the 24-hour waiting period to elapse and didn’t care what stage in the pregnancy the woman was in.


The Grand Jury report recognized that this case would put Philadelphia right in the middle of the abortion debate.


“Let us say right up front that we realize this case will be used by those on both sides of the abortion debate. We ourselves cover a spectrum of personal beliefs about the morality of abortion. For us as a criminal grand jury, however, the case is not about that controversy; it is about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants. We find common ground in exposing what happened here and in recommending measures to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”


Steinberg agreed with the Grand Jury’s sentiment, but believes that using this case as a reason to outlaw abortions would be a mistake.


“We should not make generalizations about abortion providers through this case,” she said. “This is such an isolated case. I’m concerned that this could lead to more violence and threats to the courageous doctors who provide these services. It would be unfair and dangerous to use this case as a reason to get rid of abortion.


Justice for Karnamaya

Seated in the law offices of Anapol Schwartz, Damber Ghalley and Yashoda Gurung show pictures of Karanmaya Mongar and her husband, Ash, as they visit a museum in Washington.


While they know that the wrongful death suit won’t bring Mongar back, they do think that it will bring something that is one of the reasons why they came to the United States in the first place: justice.


“In our country, there was no freedom, no human rights and no democracy,” Ghalley said. “But there is justice in America. All we want is justice.”


Senator Hughes calls for swift action in Dr. Gosnell matter


HARRISBURG – State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) last week on the Senate floor, holding a copy of the 281 page grand jury report, addressed the indictment of Dr. Kermit Gosnell and the Women’s Medical Society.  During his floor remarks, Hughes urged both Democrats and Republicans to find precisely where failures occurred and act swiftly to put solutions in place.


Gosnell, who was arrested Wednesday, is accused of causing the death of one of his female patients and killing viable babies born alive in the 6th, 7th and 8th month of pregnancy.


Hughes, who represents the senatorial district where Gosnell practiced, said the situation was horrific and the risk of any future occurrences calls for immediate action.  Hughes encouraged the judicial process to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.  He also asked that his colleagues work together to address the lack of oversight, while not limiting access to quality, reproductive health services for numerous Pennsylvanians. 


Hughes pointed out that the reprehensible activities in Dr. Gosnell’s office are the exception to what is provided in similar medical facilities. Hughes said the law must allow for the appropriate oversight in any and every health care environment.


“We must work together to fix holes in the health care system that allowed this tragedy to occur,” Hughes said.


“We must use the tools available to us to fix the system — hearings, testimony and policy analysis must be used with accuracy and expediency and we must ensure this never happens again,” Hughes said.


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