Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Claim of Medical Necessity and Other Pre-Legalization Deaths

A Claim of Necessity

Dr. Claude C. Long ran a rather fishy medical practice in San Francisco. He, his wife Isabel, and a relative named Ann Fisher, were charged with the May 20, 1937 murder of 26-year-old Genevieve Arganbright. Genevieve was, according to her husband, Perry, about 2 1/2 months pregnant at the time of her death. She had been in good health, athletic, and in the habit of taking long hikes, dancing, swimming, and playing tennis.

On the evening of Genevieve told her husband she going for her abortion, which she had scheduled by phone the previous day. She brought with her $50 that she had borrowed to pay for the abortion.  That was the last time Mr. Arganbright saw his wife. Nobody at Dr. Long's practice called to tell him that his wife had died on the operating table.
Dr. Long did, however, have Mrs. Fisher make a phone call to a Dr. Goldsand, who verified that Genevieve was dead and refused Long's request that he sign a death certificate.  The next call made from Long's office was to an undertaker's office. When two employees arrived to collect Genevieve's body at about 2:30 the morning of the 21st, Dr. Long wasn't present. Mrs. Long and Mrs. Fisher said that Dr. Goldsand had been the attending physician and that he would sign the death certificate in the morning.
The men took Genevieve's body to the mortuary, where the embalming was done in the morning. But when no relatives called to finalize arrangements, and nobody produced a death certificate, the undertaker notified the coroner.

While things were getting squirrely at the mortuary, Dr. and Mrs. Long were making tracks to a hotel.

While all this was going on, nobody had even tried to contact Genevieve's husband. It wasn't until later that day, when the police arrived, that Mr. Arganbright learned that his wife was dead.
Dr. and Mrs. Long were arrested at the Cecil Hotel on May 22.

The prosecution argued that the abortion had not been medically indicated by Genevieve's heart condition, and that even if it had been, Long's lack of due diligence had caused her death anyway. If the abortion had been elective, and thus illegal, Long was guilty of murder in Genevieve's death. If the abortion had really been to try to prevent Genevieve's death from pregnancy stress on her heart, but had been negligently performed, Long was guilty of manslaughter. And if the abortion had been medically indicated and properly performed -- if Genevieve had died from her pre-existing heart condition -- then Long was not guilty of any crime.

Long did not deny that he treated Genevieve on May 20. He said that she had not come specifically for an abortion, but was certain that she was pregnant, and that she was constantly tired, with chest pain, palpitations, and shortness of breath, all indications of heart problems. Long said that he then informed Genevieve that her heart was in very bad shape and that he recommended an immediate therapeutic abortion to prevent her death.

Expert testimony agreed that Genevieve did indeed have mitral stenosis, but there was no agreement on whether or not it warranted an abortion. The surgeon who performed the autopsy, and a pathologist from the coroner's office, both testified that Genevieve's heart was not at all enlarged. Her mitral stenosis seemed stable, and their expert testimony was that Genevieve would have likely tolerated pregnancy and delivery quite well.
Dr. Carr, the pathologist, testified that a patient sick enough to require an abortion would also have been too sick to simply perform one on the spot; a conscientious physician would have sought a consultation with a cardiologist, and would have hospitalized the patient for some time before the abortion in order to ensure that she was strong enough to survive the surgery. He also noted that the agony of having one's cervix ripped off would be enough in itself to cause shock in a patient with a weak heart.

All of these factors were indicative of lack of due diligence on Long's part in performing the abortion, regardless of his reasons for performing it. At the very least, if he really was performing the abortion due to concerns about Genevieve's heart problems, he was guilty of manslaughter for performing an outpatient surgery and ripping his patient's internal organs so badly.

Long was granted his request for a new trial, and his conviction overturned, on the grounds that the judge had improperly instructed the jury, placing the onus on the defense to prove the abortion had been medically indicated, rather than on the prosecution to prove that it had not been.


One of Three Dead Patients of Dr. Justin Mitchell
A middle-aged white man with dark hair and a high forehead, wearing a light colored suit and dark tie
Dr. Justin Mitchell
In May of 1934, 22-year-old Mary Schwartz asked Marie Hansen, a coworker at the Illinois Meat Company in Chicago, to help her arrange an abortion. Marie took Mary to Dr. Justin L. Mitchell's office south of Chicago's meatpacking district. Marie had undergone an abortion at Mitchell's hands three years earlier, and, telling him that her friend “wants to get fixed up,” she negotiated a discount from the usual price of $50 to $30. Marie co-signed on a $25 loan, and lent Mary $5 “in dimes” from her own money.

The next morning, the two women again went to Mitchell's office. Marie waited outside during the abortion, then took Mary home with her to recover. That evening, Mary took ill, so Marie called Mitchell and told him that Mary “was bad sick.” Mitchell told Marie to give Mary castor oil, and place warm towels on her abdomen to help with the pain. This did not alleviate Mary's pain, so on Marie took her back to Mitchell's office on Thursday evening and Friday morning.

At 4:00 Saturday morning, Marie was very concerned and called Mary's lover, Joe Henja, who was a foreman at the meat plant. Joe complied with Marie's request that he come right away and get Mary. He called his own doctor then rushed Mary to a hospital, where Mary died on May 20, 1934.

 Mittchell was later implicated in the abortion deaths of Alice Haggin and Mary Nowalowski in 1936.


Two Deaths in One Month

On May 20, 1870, Matilda Henningsen died at No. 182 East Seventh Street in Brooklyn. Matilda's sister, Henrietta Henningsen, testified that she recognized clothes and other items belonging to her sister. Matilda had been sick about two months earlier, and had been treated by Dr. Herzog and Dr. Kennerer. Shortly after having taken ill, Matilda told Henrietta that she'd gotten an invitation to go to Williamsburgh, and that was the last Henrietta had seen of her sister.
Dr. Joseph B. Chshman testified as to the post-mortem examination he had performed. He said he found all the evidence of uterine infection and resulting peritonitis, resulting from an abortion.
Mr. A. A. Wolff, from Denmark, purported to be a physician, but is not identified as such in the source document. Six fetuses, along with various instruments, were found in his office. The jury determined that Wolff had performed the fatal abortion.

Wolff was also implicated in the abortion death of Henrietta Ullman less than a month after Matilda's death.

1 comment:

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