Dr Jen Gunter discusses the Purvi Patel case from the point of view of an OB who wouldn’t dream of calling the police on a patient and is appalled that some would and do.
For those unfamiliar with the case Ms. Patel received no prenatal care and was an unknown gestational age when she delivered at home. She thought she had delivered very prematurely and that the baby was stillborn. Not knowing what to do, ill from bleeding, and psychologically affected from delivering unassisted in her bathroom she deposited what she thought was a pre-viable stillbirth in the trash.
Ms. Patel continued bleeding and so sought care at the hospital and what happened next should frighten everyone. After determining she had been pregnant the medical staff called the police and one of the OB/GYNs, Dr. McGuire, abandoned her to search with the police. Because that’s what doctors do, leave patients and play junior CSI. When the body was found Dr. McGuire told the officers he believed the fetus was 30 weeks, even though he had no qualification to make that determination. These actions starting the ball rolling as a potential homicide.
Dr. McGuire, a pro-life OB/GYN, was of course wrong. The autopsy indicted 23-24 weeks which is borderline viability and a gestational age when parents can make the decision to resuscitate or not. That didn’t matter to the prosecutor who either thought 6-7 weeks made little difference (it make all the difference in the world) or didn’t care.
The medical team handed Patel’s records over the the police while she was in surgery. The police were there to confront her almost as soon as she woke up.
I’ve had the police show up several times to interview inpatients and when I felt the patient wasn’t capable I told the police they would have to wait or come back or discuss the matter with the hospital’s legal counsel. My authority to make this determination was never questioned. If I wouldn’t let my patient drive a car then she isn’t medically fit to speak with the police. I can’t even fathom turning over medical records. That’s why there are court orders and hospital lawyers and medical correspondence departments.
But there’s little patients can do if the medical staff decides to violate their privacy. They can sue, but it might be from a prison cell.
This violation of privacy and zealotry towards viewing pregnancy loss as a crime should worry every woman of reproductive age with a uterus. There are cases of police traipsing though hospital rooms of women who have delivered 21 week stillbirths in toilets (that is typically what happens) all because the medical personnel had suspicions. Christine Taylor, early in her second trimester (before viability) fell down the stairs and later confided to her nurse at the hospital that she was ambivalent about the pregnancy. Her nurse called a doctor who called the police. She was jailed for two days. Bei Bei Shua tried to kill herself due to profound depression while pregnant in the third trimester, her baby died three days after delivery and she was charged with murder. All because her social worker called the police before she even delivered.
Because the fetus is everything and the woman is a presumed criminal.
In cases like these it’s the hospital personnel going out of their way to involve the police and hand over information. If a doctor, or a nurse, or a social worker says this is a crime the police aren’t going to question it. Once the police and prosecutor get it into their head someone need to be punished the legal locomotive loses its brakes and apparently even incorrect accusations and medical facts can’t stop it.
Oh well, it’s only women.