Is a doctor who performs an abortion responsible for telling the patient that the procedure will terminate a human life, or is that a foregone conclusion? The New Jersey Supreme Court will attempt to decipher that in the case of Rosa Acuna v. Dr. Sheldon Turkish. Acuna claims that her right to informed consent was violated because she didn’t know that her abortion would kill a potential human being. For any reasonably intelligent and mentally competent person, the end result of an abortion procedure is quite obvious. Both Acuna and Turkish are in the wrong in this situation, but Acuna does not deserve punitive damages for stress that occurred after her abortion.
Acuna was pregnant for the third time in 1996 when Turkish recommended she terminate her pregnancy due to recurrent and potentially life-threatening kidney problems for both herself and her fetus. Acuna asked Turkish if there “was a baby inside her,” and his reply was, “It’s only blood right now.” Afterward, when she realized that she had aborted a potential human life, she allegedly suffered from major clinical depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosexual dysfunction.
As a result, Acuna filed suit against Turkish claiming wrongful death, violation of informed consent and a claim of “emotional distress and mental suffering arising from the loss of the fetus.” The first two claims were thrown out, because under Roe v. Wade, Acuna’s fetus was not a “constitutional person.” However, the third claim stands because Acuna claims Turkish failed to inform her that her fetus was on its way to being “a complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being.”
The solutions to this case seem simple. First, Dr. Turkish needs a thorough lesson in bedside manner and about his legal obligation to explain even the most obvious information to his patients. No one should ever refer to a fetus as “only blood.” However, there is no basis for legal action on Acuna’s part. She made the decision to have the abortion with all required mental culpability and without a doubt she knew that, as do most people who are considering abortion, the procedure leads to the termination of a possible human life. And obviously, that life was “irreplaceable.” Any mental stress she suffered was due to her own guilt, not the doctor’s wrongdoing.