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Legal questions loom for doctors in problematic abortion

When a doctor's conduct is especially egregious or reckless, it is possible for both a civil lawsuit and a criminal prosecution to be the result. In a recent case, two doctors were recently indicted on murder charges following the performance of an abortion on a woman in 2010. The doctors are alleged to have violated Maryland's fetal homicide law, which does not allow a fetus to be aborted once it becomes viable.

Although this incident has gained attention because of the criminal charges, important questions linger regarding whether doctor errors led to complications for the woman. The Maryland Board of Physicians has already condemned the physician's care of the patient, which could open the door to medical malpractice liability.

The woman was initially seen in New Jersey, where her cervix was dilated in preparation for the procedure. She was then asked to drive to a clinic 60 miles away in Elkton, Maryland, where the procedure would be completed.

However, as the physician performed the abortion procedure at the Maryland clinic, the woman sustained a ruptured uterus and other internal injuries. Unable to properly care for her, the doctor drove the woman to the nearest hospital for emergency treatment. According to the Maryland Board of Physician's investigation, the patient sat in a wheelchair, barely conscious, while the doctor argued with hospital staff outside of the emergency room.

Her condition was so severe, that she needed to be flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital later that day for additional treatment. Although the woman survived her medical injuries, an investigation began regarding the practices of the physicians responsible for her treatment.

While much of the attention is on the novelty of the charges brought against the doctors, the case may also serve as a cautionary story. Physicians must be vigilant in ensuring that their patients are receiving proper care and treatment to avoid complications and injuries to patients related to any medical procedure.

Source: Baltimore Sun, "Doctors in botched Elkton abortion face murder charges," Peter Hermann, Dec. 30, 2011

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