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|Fri, 08-17-2007 - 3:46pm|
Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy
Friday, August 10, 2007
Some Abortion Providers Inject Fetuses With Lethal Drugs Prior to Procedure To Avoid Prosecution, Boston Globe Reports
Many abortion providers in response to the Supreme Court decision to uphold a ban on so-called "partial-birth" abortion have begun injecting fetuses with lethal drugs prior to the procedure to avoid accusations that they violated the ban and potential prosecution, the Boston Globe reports. According to the Globe, medical staff members inject fetuses older than 18 to 20 weeks' gestation with the heart drug digoxin or potassium chloride to ensure the fetus is dead before the abortion is performed.
If a fetus is not dead when it begins to emerge from the woman's body, medical staff could be accused of violating the law under the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Although providers are not performing the banned procedure, many "feel compelled to do all they can to protect themselves and their staff from the possibility of being accused," the Globe reports.
According to the Globe, the injections can cause a slight risk to the woman and do not provide a medical benefit. Philip Darney, chief of obstetrics at San Francisco General Hospital, and colleagues have studied the two drugs used in the injections. They found that digoxin is safe but provides no advantages in performing the actual procedure. They also found no safety record for potassium chloride, but a few cases suggest that it could be dangerous if it is accidentally injected into the woman instead of the fetus. The researchers determined that women undergoing abortions should decide whether to use the injections. Darney, who has decided not to use the injections, said the researchers do not "believe that our patients should take a risk for which the only clear benefit is a legal one to the physician."
The National Abortion Federation in response to increasing interest among abortion providers in using digoxin has developed guidelines for NAF members on using the injections and is conducting training. Mark Nichols, an ob-gyn professor at Oregon Health & Science University, said he believes the majority of late-term abortion providers are making the injections routine, adding that he requires injections for all fetuses beginning at 20 weeks' gestation at his clinic. He said that although he respects Darney's position on the injections, he is a "little bit more concerned about the risk for the faculty and staff." According to Michael Greene, director of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, patients have not objected to the injections.
Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have made the injections standard policy for all abortions beginning at 20 weeks' gestation, according to Greene. In addition, Boston Medical Center has begun using the injections for later-term surgical abortions, according to Phillip Stubblefield, an ob-gyn professor at Boston University School of Medicine. Greene said, "No physician even wants to be accused of stumbling into accidentally doing one of these procedures" (Goldberg, Boston Globe, 8/10).