In Rare Case, Doctor on Trial for Murder in Botched Abortion
NEW YORK (AP) _ Guadalupe Negron was in a desperate situation. The mother of four was pregnant again and afraid she would lose her job as a nurse’s aide.
She slipped out of her home in the Bronx on a summer day two years ago and went to a storefront clinic in Queens for an $800 abortion.
Negron paid with her life.
Hours after undergoing the abortion, she bled to death in a waiting room, allegedly alone and unattended.
In a case unprecedented in state history and a rarity anywhere in the United States, the doctor, David Benjamin, is on trial on murder charges, accused of doing nothing to help the woman after she was wheeled from the operating room in pain and drenched in blood from punctures to her uterus and cervix.
Opening arguments are scheduled to begin Thursday.
The New York Medical Society said it has never heard of a New York case in which a doctor was charged with murder in the death of a patient during a medical procedure. Usually when doctors are accused of botching a procedure they face malpractice suits or disciplinary action from regulatory boards.
Benjamin’s attorney, Brad Leventhal, said the case belongs in civil court.
``This is frightening,″ he said. ``A charge of homicide has no place here.″
But Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Benjamin’s ``depraved indifference to human life″ warrant the criminal charges.
Benjamin, 58, could get up to 25 years in prison. He has been jailed on $750,000 bail since his arrest.
Weeks before Negron went to see Benjamin, his medical license had been revoked by the state Health Department for ``gross incompetence and negligence″ for five cases in which he had perforated the uteruses of other patients. He was appealing that ruling when Negron walked in in 1993.
Negron was 33 and pregnant for a fifth time. She did not tell her husband, and enlisted a niece to help her.
The Honduran woman did not speak English, and like many immigrants she was afraid of anything ``official″ and did not want to go to a hospital. Negron found Benjamin’s clinic listed in a Spanish-language newspaper.
By the time she had gotten together the money needed for the abortion, she was five months’ pregnant. By law, Benjamin should have referred her to a hospital since she was 20 weeks along, but he did not even examine Negron before performing the abortion, Brown said.
After the procedure, Benjamin immediately began another abortion and Negron allegedly was shunted off to a waiting room, where she hemorrhaged, went into shock and then cardiac arrest.
When Benjamin saw Negron an hour after she was wheeled out of the operating room, he called an ambulance. He mistakenly inserted a breathing tube into her stomach instead of her trachea, Brown said. Negron was dead before she reached the hospital.
``The last thing this doctor wanted to do was injure a patient or cause the death of a patient,″ Leventhal said. ``He made a miscalculation of the gestation of the fetus, and complications ensued. He called for emergency help, he tried everything that he possibly could do to save this patient’s life.″
``This is a malpractice case,″ the defense attorney said.
Brown said the case was much more: ``This cannot be shrugged off as a medical malpractice suit that some insurance companies will have to pay damage on.″
In 1989, Dr. Milos Klvana was convicted of murder in Los Angeles in the stillbirth of one infant and the deaths of eight newborns. Prosecutors said he performed the deliveries in his office even though they were high-risk cases, and refused to send the women to hospitals.
In 1993, Dr. Gerald Einaugler was convicted in New York of reckless endangerment and willful violation of health laws in the death of an elderly woman. Einaugler erroneously ordered food pumped through her dialysis tube.
He was ordered to spend weekends in jail for a year.