The case unfolding against a West Philadelphia doctor whose abortion clinic was shut down last week is abhorrent on several levels.
For starters, the street-corner clinic run by Kermit B. Gosnell sounds like a third-world outpost.
Authorities described the conditions in Gosnell's clinic as "deplorable and unsanitary." Splattered blood was found on the floor, and aborted fetuses were on display in jars. In a city that is home to some of the nation's best medical facilities, it is a disgrace that such a place even exists.
More alarming, the death of a woman treated by Gosnell last November was not his first brush with trouble. Gosnell performed an abortion on a woman in 2000 who died three days later from a perforated uterus and infection.
Since 1981, Gosnell has been named in 46 civil lawsuits, including 10 malpractice claims. But much of this basic information isn't readily available to the public, which enables bad doctors to remain in business.
State authorities finally suspended Gosnell's medical license last week after federal drug agents raided his office on suspicion of illegal distribution of prescription painkillers. The suspension order by the State Board of Medicine called Gosnell's practice of medicine a "clear danger to the public health and safety."
It apparently took the death of a second patient to get the medical board to act. In reality, Gosnell's license probably should've been revoked years ago.
In 1996, his license was suspended for allowing a physician's assistant to treat patients. Gosnell got it back after paying a $1,000 fine.
In 2007, Gosnell performed an abortion on a 13-year-old girl without her parents' consent. He paid $10,000 to settle a civil suit in the matter.
Gosnell was known for performing abortions without questions and working on the cheap. Patients traveled from other states for his treatment.
Sadly, threats, protests, and even the murder of doctors who perform abortions have forced many good physicians out of the abortion business, leaving others to fill the void.
This case raises a broader issue regarding how doctors with dubious histories are allowed to remain in practice. State medical boards are often slow to respond. Even when they do, the penalties often amount to little more than a wrist slap.
Federal and medical-industry databases do not contain full, complete, or publicly available records detailing physicians' backgrounds. That leaves patients at a loss to determine if a doctor has run into problems.
Allowing bad doctors to stay in practice undermines the quality of care and raises the costs for everyone. In an extreme case like Gosnell's, it may result in a patient's needless injury or death.