Dr. Kermit Gosnell is on trial for his life in Philadelphia because of how he ran his medical clinic, the “Women’s Medical Society” at 3801 Lancaster. That impressive establishmentarian-sounding title belied a business which reflected the abortion philosophy lived to its fullest expression and logical conclusion. In the final analysis, the Gosnell case reveals much more than who Kermit Gosnell is. It has revealed to us who we have become as a nation.
The Grand Jury Report reads like a a horror novel. So callous and cruel is this page-turner that it simply beggars the imagination. In it, the report details how instruments were not sterilized, and were the cheapest disposable instruments reused from patient to patient. In the process, Dr. Gosnell spread disease like a fly. One can only imagine if HIV was spread in his “clinic”.
Women of color were more often than not attended to by Gosnell’s staff of medically untrained and unlicensed personnel, including a fifteen year-old girl who administered anaesthetics, while Dr. Gosnell saw to the white women in slightly less squalid rooms, because as he said, that’s the way the world is. A black man who graduated from Thomas Jefferson Medical College abandoned black women to untrained, unskilled laypeople.
Looking past all of that, the blood-stained blankets, floors, and treatment tables, the toilet bowls women delivered their babies into (A common delivery method at abortuaries elsewhere), there was so much more.
Gosnell was frequently absent as women were being given their abortion procedures, and hundreds of babies were born alive. Here Gosnell would insure that there was no ambulance to come and discover his macabre shop, and here is where his most heartless proclivities became standard operating procedure. He would cut into the backs of these babies’ necks, crush through their spinal columns with scissors, and then sever the cervical spinal cords, essentially producing an internal decapitation. It is not likely that death was instantaneous for all the babies whose brains remained perfused with oxygen until the cessation of heart and lung function.
In the research experiments on rat spinal cords and brains for my MS degree in Cell and Molecular Biology, we worked on rats, and I decapitated quite a few with a special guillotine. Once decapitated, the feet ran in place, the tail twitched violently, and one could see the animals’ eyes still blinking until unconsciousness overcame the animal. It was horrid work and helped motivate me to work with bacteria in my doctoral research. I cannot imagine the pain experienced by these babies undergoing internal decapitation.
Yet, even that begs a deeper analysis. Why are we so repelled by these severings of spinal cords, what Gosnell and his criminal employees glibly referred to as ‘snippings’, as though one were simply gliding through a lock of hair? Why can physicians suck out brains, dismember the babies alive in utero, but be charged with murder for the same barbarism once the baby simply changes location?
Why do we consider the baby a patient in its own right only if it is extruded alive from the birth canal?
Here is where we discover Gosnell the monster is really Gosnell the reflection of American Jurisprudence at its own sublime and depraved worst.
The answer to the questions is simple. We have decided that the same baby, simply by being attached to an umbilical cord is not his/her own person, but an extension of the mother’s body. By that logic, an astronaut doing a spacewalk and connected to the ship by an umbilicus should have no more moral worth than the spacecraft itself. Were a fellow crew member to shut off the air supply intentionally, would they be charged merely with vandalism?
As the major media emerge from their blackout on this case, and the nation tunes in, we find ourselves at an interesting juncture. We are united in horror at the depravity and inhumanity of it all. It is a case that makes us consider the biological reality of the child whose murder would not have been murder if only proper protocol had been followed, and therein lies the madness.
Murder is not murder if proper protocol is followed.
We cannot long survive as a civilization of rational human beings with that sort of mentality. American exceptionalism has been consumed by radicalized autonomy, and in the process biomedical ethics, politics, and common decency have been savaged.
What is sickest about the Gosnell case is that Dr. Gosnell is really us. The only real distinction is that he stepped outside of the boundaries we established for our American psychosis. Abortion can only be permissible if we assuage ourselves with certain boundaries of propriety for the mass murder of our citizens. There is no greater pariah in the asylum than the one who upsets the rhythms of the asylum.
The filthy conditions in that clinic would have been a twenty-four hour news story, as would have been the severed feet in jars. It was the decapitations of babies who could be seen and heard that merited him six of the seven counts of murder. Again, it comes down to a matter of protocol. The baby only becomes a patient when it is extruded from the birth canal, which is a radical departure from the traditional two-patient model of obstretric medicine.
To look into the face of Kermit Gosnell is to look in the American mirror, a rare glimpse of clarity as the fog temporarily lifts from the mirror. With more than fifty-five million babies aborted in forty years, it is time to use the Gosnell trial as an opportunity for some national soul-searching. But will we, or have those parameters for the national psychosis become too fixed and immovable? Will we offer up Gosnell as a sacrificial offering, a way to assure ourselves of the validity and functionality of the boundaries of psychosis that were breached?
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