Massachusetts anti-abortionists yesterday criticized the decision of the Boston University (B.U.) school of Medicine to make Dr. Kenneth C. Edelin chairman of its department of obstetrics and gynecology.
Edelin was indicted for manslaughter in April 1974 after allegedly failing to save the life of a fetus that had survived a saline abortion he had performed. After a trial that achieved nationwide publicity, a jury of nine men and three women convicted him of the charge in February 1975.
Edelin appealed the conviction and the Massachusetts Supreme Court overturned the original decision in December 1976, clearing him of all charges.
Along with serving as department chairman, Edelin assumes the post of head of the Boston City Hospital's department of obstetrics and gynecology.
Katherine Healy, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said yesterday she was "disturbed" by the decision to have Edelin head the department because "I really wonder what effect this will have on medical school applicants who are pro-life."
"It doesn't say much for Boston University's committment to academic freedom," she said, adding. "This action may effectively close the door on free and open discussion of this controversial issue at the B.U. Medical School."
Edelin said, "The chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology does not determine who gets into medical school. Besides, in admissions the subject of abortion never comes up."
"The issue for me has always been providing quality health care; that's what I've done and that's what I'll continue to do here at B.U.," he added.
Edelin's acquital is regarded as one of the most important decisions on abortion rights since the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling legalizing abortion. After the acquital, Dr. Kenneth Ryan, professor of obstetrics at the Harvard Medical School, said the case was significant because it would "take some of the weight off of physicians who perform abortions."
Originally Edelin was charged only with "ruthless and reckless conduct" towards the five-month old fetus when it was alive outside its mother's body.
The chief prosecution witness then testified that the fetus died within the womb because Edelin kept his hand in the uterus through an abdominal incision. The presiding judge at the trial said a manslaughter victim had to be "alive outside the body of the mother." Nonetheless, Edelin was convicted.
William P. Homans Jr. '41, Edelin's lawyer, said after the trial that his client was convicted because the jury was convicted that a fetus should be considered alive after it has been separated from the mother's placenta inside the womb.
Homans said yesterday that during and after the trial, Edelin had the support of his professional colleagues, adding, "I know that he is tremendously competent. The appointment is well-deserved."
Edelin said he was satisfied with the promotion, and added that his controversial and highly-publicized trial did not significantly alter his medical career.
Other observers were not so satisfied. A source at the State House who asked to remain anonymous said yesterday, "This appointment adds to the pro-abortion forces because it gives an abortionist legitimacy."
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