Rebecca Carey Charland endured a difficult pregnancy, as she developed antiphospholipid syndrome, a condition where the immune system attacks the body's natural proteins. The problem, which frequently leads to blood clots, caused her to miscarry during the pregnancy. After undergoing an ultrasound, it was confirmed that the baby was lost. Her obstetrician directed her to the Washington Surgi-Clinic, the facility of late-term abortionist Cesare F. Santangelo for removal of the deceased fetus.
Charland visited Santangelo's office for the insertion of laminaria dilators and returned the following day. It was determined she was not properly dilated; therefore, more dilators were put in and she was told to come back the next day. Approximately two hours later, she returned to the clinic complaining of pain in the abdominal region. Santangelo then proceeded with the procedure. Amid the process, Charland's oxygen levels fell, she began turning blue, and an ambulance was called. She was transported to George Washington University Hospital while a defibrillator was used to maintain her heartbeat. She was determined to have severe uterine bleeding and died shortly thereafter.
An autopsy was performed on Charland revealing that “fetal debris” had entered her bloodstream and reached her lungs. Her family filed a medical malpractice claim which insisted that she had not been made aware of the potential for her conditions to have fatal consequences. In addition, they said she was not told of the option of remaining in the hospital for the procedure rather than going to Washington Surgi-Clinic. If she had chosen to remain in the hospital, Santangelo would have been unable to treat her because he lacked hospital privileges.
The lawsuit alleged that Santangelo ignored Charland's existing medical conditions when he prescribed her a blood-thinner. Other allegations included a failure to execute informed consent and failures associated with responding to the symptoms that existed and adherence to medical standards. The family sought financial compensation in the claim of $80 million. Months later, the suit was abruptly dismissed according to court records at the request of both parties, likely indicating a confidential settlement agreement was reached.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Washington D.C. Department of Health obtained evidence that Santangelo had previous claims of medical malpractice involving at least two hospitals. Complaints accused him of adverse results relating to abortion procedures. The medical review panel suggested that Santangelo practiced in a “high-risk” area of medicine and simply issued these suggestions:
- That he use ultrasounds to reduce the chance of uterine perforation
- To increase the quality of communication with referring doctors
- To implement a clear and uniform process of patient consent