The Book of Gosnell

MATT ROURKE / AP Defense attorney Jack McMahon laid the foundation for a defense.
MATT ROURKE / AP Defense attorney Jack McMahon laid the foundation for a defense.
Posted: March 22, 2013

IF DAYS in court were given formal titles like book chapters, Thursday's trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell would have been headed "Karnamaya Mongar."

A full day of testimony by anesthesiologist Andrew Herlich, an expert witness, revolved around Mongar, who was not present in court Thursday, the trial's fourth day.

She was not present because she died in 2009 within 24 hours of an abortion in Gosnell's "house of horrors," a/k/a Women's Medical Center in West Philadelphia.

That the woman, who was 41, is dead is indisputable, allegedly Gosnell's sole adult victim. Amid the stomach-turning accusations of snipping babies' necks and spines in and out of the womb, and collecting their feet like monarch butterflies, the death of the tiny immigrant from Bhutan is almost lost in the shuffle.

But not quite.

Defense attorney Jack McMahon on Thursday laid the foundation for a defense that will probably cast blame on the victim, or the victim's family, for not informing Gosnell that she had a medical condition that created a fatal reaction with drugs he used. The drugs, such as Demerol, Herlich said, were "no longer in favor," but McMahon got him to agree that they were legal.

That was during McMahon's afternoon cross-examination.

During the morning session, led by prosecutor Edward Cameron, Herlich conducted a crash course in pharmacology, branching into detailed explanations of anesthesiology, analgesics, anxiolytics, plus a bewildering forest of sedatives and painkillers.

With all that, and no testimony from victims, witnesses or co-defendants, jurors might have dozed off, but they didn't. The nine women and eight men (12 jurors and five alternates) sat straight in their chairs and paid attention.

Like McMahon, Cameron was laying a foundation, too. Through Herlich's testimony that Gosnell's practices were sloppy, unsanitary, obscene and - in the case of unqualified personnel administering drugs - against standard medical practice and the law, Cameron is hoping to entomb Gosnell.

Having ended its first week, earlier chapters of the trial were much more charged. Those included gruesome and revolting descriptions of dead babies - oh, excuse me, I mean fetuses, not babies, not even the one that was seven months along who could have walked Gosnell to the bus, he reportedly joked.

It's nice to have fun on the job.

Jurors nearly sobbed when they learned that Gosnell reportedly cut the spinal cords of dozens of fetuses and babies, which means the state believes at least some survived birth, allowing Gosnell to be charged with murder.

It's amazing that what separates human from nonhuman, baby from fetus, is the thickness of the wall of the mother's belly.

Uh-oh. This is heading where maybe it shouldn't.

Pennsylvania law bans abortions in the third trimester. Gosnell is accused of doing that anyway. He also is accused of killing babies and Mongar and other infractions.

Gosnell's trial is expected to last up to eight weeks before the final chapter is written. He could get death, but he's 72 now and appeals (hello, Mumia Abu-Jamal) could go on for decades.

If convicted, he deserves to die, but it would be pointless for the D.A. to seek the death penalty. We should be satisfied to sentence Gosnell to life and allow him to die behind bars before Satan claims his soul, should he have one.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

Blog: philly.com/stuniversity

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