NJ Supreme Court Rules Favors Physicians About the Need for Explaining Women About Abortion

by Medindia Content Team on  September 14, 2007 at 3:35 PM Women Health News   - G J E 4
NJ Supreme Court Rules Favors Physicians About the Need for Explaining Women About Abortion
The New Jersey Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that physicians are not required to inform women seeking abortions that the procedure would result in "killing an existing human being," the New York Times reports. The court in July 2006 agreed to hear the appeal of a decision that a jury can consider whether a doctor gave adequate medical information to a woman who claims she was unable to give informed consent to undergo an abortion.

According to court papers, physician Sheldon Turkish in 1996 told Rosa Acuna, who was eight weeks pregnant, that she had to undergo an "immediate abortion" because her pregnancy was causing damage to her kidneys. Acuna charges that Turkish "incorrectly told [her] ... that she was not aborting a human life" when she underwent the procedure, adding that she has experienced psychological trauma, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosexual dysfunction, as a result of the abortion.

A trial judge previously had dismissed the case, stating that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a "fetus is not a person," but an appellate court ruled that Acuna could sue for damages involving "a question of medical malpractice."

A three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court in April dismissed the wrongful death claim in the lawsuit but wrote that a jury could decide "[w]hat medical information is material and must be disclosed by an obstetrician when advising a patient to terminate a pregnancy and what medical information is material when the patient asks if the 'baby' is already there".

State Supreme Court Ruling

Justice Barry Albin in the state Supreme Court's opinion wrote that it is established that a doctor must provide women information about the medical risks of undergoing an abortion; however, there is no requirement for a doctor to go further. "We know of no common law duty requiring a physician to instruct the woman that the embryo is an 'existing human being' and suggesting that an abortion is tantamount to murder," Albin wrote, adding that there is no consensus among the medical community or residents that such a statement is based on medical facts rather than "firmly held moral, philosophical and religious beliefs."

Albin also wrote, "On the profound issue of when life begins, this court cannot drive policy in one particular direction by the engine of the common law when the opposing sides, which represent so many of our citizens, are arrayed along a deep societal and philosophical divide".

The court ruled that physicians are only required "to provide their pregnant patients seeking an abortion with material medical information, including gestational stage and medical risks involved in the procedure". Harold Cassidy, Acuna's lawyer, said the decision "deepened [Acuna's] resolve, and she has instructed me to file a petition in the United States Supreme Court".

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

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