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No pregnancy required for this Nevada abortion doctor

No pregnancy required for this Nevada abortion doctor

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Dr. Algis Martell found a unique solution to the abortion debate.

According to the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners, he performed abortions on women who were never pregnant and, when they were pregnant, he said he was performing an abortion but did not.

One patient had an abortion performed by Martell. Two days later, she visited another doctor who checked her with an ultrasound that "revealed a non-viable 18.7 week fetus," according to the medical board. Making matters much worse, Martell had also ruptured the patient's uterus during his failed attempt at an abortion.

His treatment of the patient "constitutes a lack of care which raises a presumption of conscious indifference to consequences, and an entire disregard for and indifference to the safety and welfare of a patient, and constitutes ‘gross malpractice,'" the board wrote.

Martell admitted to the allegations and, in 1994, was put on probation for five years and ordered to take some courses in obstetrics and gynecology.He was fined $4,000.

Less than a year later, Martell was in trouble again. The board this time charged him with violations of state law in the treatment of eight patients.

He was accused of performing abortions before even determining whether the patients were pregnant. In two cases he identified ovarian cysts, called those pregnancies and performed abortions.

In other cases, he had a nurse perform the ultrasounds, despite her lack of skill.

In one case, the nurse looked at an ultrasound and said the patient was pregnant. She made this call, she said, by measuring the fetal pole, a standard measurement that captures the beginnings of the fetus typically after six weeks. Martell himself looked at the ultrasound and said that he didn't see the fetal pole. So the nurse repeated the ultrasound a month later. Again, she said the patient was pregnant, and that the patient should be scheduled for an abortion.

The patient, perhaps doubtful because of the repeated ultrasounds, went and had second opinion. The verdict? She was not pregnant.

So what had Martell's nurse measured twice and determined to be the fetal pole? The patient's bladder.

One could forgive a slip-up like that. Sonograms are difficult to read, which is why they require specialized training. But another patient had the exact same experience. Two ultrasounds.Two determinations of pregnancy. Both based on the patient's bladder.

The Nevada medical board wrote that Martell had displayed "a complete lack of knowledge and ignorance of ultrasound techniques and interpretation, and constitute [Martell's] performing services which he knew, or had reason to know that he was not competent to perform."

And yet, the board did not stop him from practicing. Instead, the board restricted his license in December 1995, saying he could no longer perform abortions.

Next: The phantom abortion doctor remakes himself as a weight loss expert

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The 2017 California Fellowship, for California-based journalists only, will be held March 5-9, 2017 in Los Angeles. This Fellowship will focus on vulnerable populations and access to care and health care reform and innovation. We also take an in-depth look at how community conditions influence individuals' prospects for health. Each Fellow receives a $1,000 stipend to assist with the costs of reporting an ambitious Fellowship project on a California health issue, as well as six months of mentoring by a Senior Fellow. Deadline to apply is Dec. 1.  For more information, go here.


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