Five months after 22-year-old Laura Hope Smith died on his operating table during an abortion, Rapin Osathanondh, a Hyannis gynecologist , has relinquished his medical license in the wake of a criminal investigation and disciplinary action by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine.
Woman's mother kept the heat on newspaper and DA's office
Smith was reportedly 13 weeks pregnant when she underwent the abortion Sept. 13 last year at the Women Health Center office of Dr. Rapin Osathanondh.
Mother was sought out and interviewed by a Cape Cod Times reporter two days after her daughter’s death, but the article never ran.“I don’t want Laura’s death swept under the rug,” her mother said. Eileen and Tom Smith adopted their Honduran-born daughter at age 5. “If Laura had died falling off a bike or in a car accident, it would have been in the paper the next day. This is a political hot potato,” Laura's mother said.
The Board had moved to suspend Osathanondh's license pending further investigation, declaring him to be a "risk to public safety." In a surprise move yesterday, Osathanondh instead permanently surrendered his license, and will not practice medicine again anywhere.
“If Laura had died falling off a bike or in a car accident, it would have been in the paper the next day" the mother
On Monday, the Boston Medical Examiner's office declared that the cause of Smith's death was "cardiac pulmonary arrest during anesthesia during a voluntary termination of pregnancy."
Left Boston Hospital under a cloud
Threatened nurses, complaint ignored
As we reported last October, Dr. Osathanondh left Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in 2001 following complaints that during a staff meeting he threatened to “execute” five nurses. He was not prosecuted for the alleged threats, according to Boston Herald reports. Mrs. Smith said her daughter apparently died on the abortion table. Firefighters found her non-responsive when they answered the emergency call, according to the report she read.
Smith was brought by ambulance to Cape Cod Hospital. Pending the autopsy, the cause of her death is still not officially listed. Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said his office “reviews all deaths of this nature.” However, he’ll have to first receive the state medical examiner’s autopsy report, which may be released by late October.
Calls to Osathanondh's clinic revealed that it is not accepting patients, but is referring women to other clinics.
Laura Smith had sought an abortion from Osathanondh on September 13, 2007, at his office, Women's Health Center, in the Cape Cod town of Hyannis. Smith was placed under full anesthesia when only Osathanondh and a non-medical receptionist were present. When Smith suddenly stopped breathing, the receptionist phoned 911 but gave very little information to the dispatcher. Smith died later that day.
Met with mother, immediately "smelled a rat"
Ten days after Smith's death, Osathanondh met with Smith's mother, Eileen, and showed her medical records that caused her to believe that his negligence was responsible for Laura's death.
"While nothing can bring back Laura and her baby, we take great comfort in knowing that Osathanondh will never again hurt another woman or kill another innocent child"Operation Rescue, a "Pro Life" organization, first broke the news of Laura's death, then worked with Eileen to apply public pressure to authorities so that Laura's death was not covered up. Cape Cod TODAY ran a story on these facts on October 17, 2007 after the local daily newspaper had failed to respond to the mother's requests for news of her daughter's death. "I feel like this was a group effort and you were part of it!" Eileen Smith told Operation Rescue after receiving news of Osathanondh's license surrender.
"While nothing can bring back Laura and her baby, we take great comfort in knowing that Osathanondh will never again hurt another woman or kill another innocent child," said Operation Rescue spokesperson Cheryl Sullenger. "We commend Eileen Smith on her tireless dedication to seeking justice for Laura, in spite of the personal grief and huge obstacles that she had to overcome."
"Most of the time authorities just want to sweep abortion complications and deaths under the rug, slap the abortionist on the wrist, and send him on his merry way. That certainly would have happened in this case if not for Eileen's determination and for groups like ours that kept Laura's death on the front burner."
and from the Cape Cod Times:
A gynecologist who came under scrutiny after a patient died following an abortion in his Hyannis clinic resigned his medical license yesterday.
As a result of his resignation, Dr. Rapin Osathanondh, whose primary practice was in Brookline, can no longer practice medicine in Massachusetts, nor can he reapply for the license at a later date.
Dr. Rapin Osathanondh
Medical school: Mahidol University, Siriraj Hospital, Thailand, graduated 1967
Siriraj Hospital, Thailand, general surgery, 1967-1968
UMass Memorial Medical Center, intern, 1968-1969
Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, resident, general surgery, 1969-1970Brigham & Women's Hospital, resident, obstetrics and gynecology, 1970-1973 Brigham & Women's, Harvard Medical School, fellow, 1973-1975Ford Foundation, fellow, 1975-1977
Board certification: American Board of Medical Specialties, obstetrics and gynecology
Source: Massachusett Board of Registration in Medicine
The reasons why the former Harvard fellow resigned his medical license are not public, according to a Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine spokesman. However, medical board spokesman Russell Aims described the action as "disciplinary," adding that because the doctor chose to resign, members of the board are constrained from discussing the case or the underlying cause of the resignation.
Aims said Osathanondh's name and a notice about his resignation will be sent to national data banks that track doctors' licenses.
Messages left at Osathanondh's offices in Brookline and Hyannis yesterday were not returned.
Laura Smith of Sandwich, 22, died Sept. 13 after going to Osathanondh's Hyannis office for an abortion. Smith's mother, Eileen filed a complaint against Osathanondh with the medical board late last year.
Laura Smith was pronounced dead at Cape Cod Hospital after being taken there by ambulance. Her mother said she was 13 weeks pregnant when she sought an abortion.
In her medical board complaint, Smith questioned what kind of drugs, including anesthesia, Osathanondh used on her daughter and whether there was anyone with medical training to assist Osathanondh during the abortion procedure.
Some of those questions remain unanswered because Smith has not been allowed complete access to her daughter's medical records, and the results of the autopsy performed in September are still pending as the state Medical Examiner's office awaits toxicology tests.
Smith has filed a claim in Barnstable Superior Court to obtain the medical records and autopsy results. Smith's Boston-based attorney, David Angueria, said he plans to press the court harder for the release of the medical records now that Osathanondh has resigned.
"I cannot say exactly what led the board to take the action it did (to accept the resignation), but something the doctor did obviously led them to take that action," Angueria said.
"For the time being, we are acting under certain constraints because we don't have all the information we're seeking."
Angueria said once he has a complete autopsy report in hand, he will consult with experts before taking further legal steps.
In a telephone interview from her New Jersey home yesterday, Eileen Smith said she was "overjoyed" with the medical board's decision to accept Osathanondh's resignation.
"I am thrilled beyond belief. I feel like Laura finally got justice. ... I'm grateful to the medical board," she said.
The state medical examiner has determined Laura Smith's cause of death as "cardiac pulmonary arrest during anesthesia for voluntary termination" of a pregnancy, her mother said.
The manner of death is still pending, Smith said.
Manner of death — the way in which the cause of death came about — is a key factor in whether Osathanondh could face a criminal charge.
Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said his office is treating the case as an unattended death, a term that is applied to cases the state medical examiner investigates under state law. He spoke with the state medical examiner a few days ago and some blood tests are pending, he said.
O'Keefe said he will consult with an anesthesiologist about the results of the toxicology reports.
Eileen Smith said she is satisfied with O'Keefe's handling of the case.
"He's been very sensitive and it has been reassuring to know the DA's office is following this," Smith said.
"My hope is the district attorney will prosecute. There are certain things that (Osathanondh) should have done that he didn't do. He must be held accountable."
Ten days after her daughter's death, in an effort to understand what had happened, Smith met with Osathanondh in the lobby of the Boston Harbor Hotel.
Osathanondh said her daughter had a suction-type abortion and she was anesthetized during the procedure, according to Smith. She saw a waiver her daughter signed, the permissions she gave and the list of drugs she was given, Smith said.
"After what had happened, I expected to meet a monster. Instead, I met this tall, thin, soft-spoken Asian man, who if I had not known what he'd done, might be someone I'd invite to dinner," Smith said. "But I do know what he did and I am relieved that he will no longer practice medicine. Laura's death will not be in vain if it saves the lives of other young women."