A doctor’s license was revoked Friday in the case of a teenager who planned to have an abortion but instead gave birth to a baby she says was killed when clinic staffers put it into a plastic bag and threw it in the trash.
The doctor, Pierre Jean-Jacques Renelique, was not present when the baby was born, but the Florida Medical Board upheld Department of Health allegations that he falsified medical records, inappropriately delegated tasks to unlicensed personnel and committed malpractice. Joseph Harrison, the attorney representing Renelique at the license revocation hearing in Tampa, said Renelique has not decided whether to appeal. The state attorney’s office, meanwhile, said its criminal investigation into the incident is ongoing and no charges have been filed. A fetus born alive cannot be put to death even if its mother intended to have an abortion, police said when the incident occurred in 2006. The baby’s mother, Sycloria Williams, sued Renelique, the clinic and its staff in January, seeking damages. She alleges in her suit that “she witnessed the murder of her daughter” and said she “sustained severe emotional distress, shock and psychic trauma which have resulted in discernible bodily injury.” “This is not about a pot of gold,” said Tom Pennekamp, her attorney. “What this is about is right and wrong and making a statement, making sure it doesn’t happen to other young women.” According to the suit, Williams, then 18, discovered while being treated for a fall that she was 23 weeks pregnant. She went to a clinic to get an abortion on the morning of July 20, 2006, after receiving medication and instructions the previous day. Renelique was not at the clinic, however, and Williams was told to wait for him. She was given two pills and told they would make her ill. When she complained of feeling ill, clinic staff members gave her a robe and told her to lie down in a patient room, the suit says. Renelique was still not present when Williams “felt a large pain” and delivered a baby girl, according to the suit. “The staff began screaming and pandemonium ensued. Sycloria watched in horror and shock as her baby writhed with her chest rising and falling as she breathed.”
Read the Department of Health complaint (PDF)
A clinic co-owner entered the room and used a pair of shears to cut the baby’s umbilical cord, the suit said. She “then scooped up the baby and placed the live baby, placenta and afterbirth in a red plastic biohazard bag, which she sealed, and then threw bag and the baby in a trash can.” Staff at the clinic did not call 911 or seek medical assistance for Williams or the baby, the suit said. Renelique arrived at the clinic about an hour later and gave Williams a shot to put her to sleep. “She awoke after the procedure and was sent home still in complete shock,” the suit said. Police were notified of the incident by an anonymous caller who told them the baby was born alive and disposed of. “The complainant [Williams] observed the baby moving and gasping for air for approximately five minutes,” according to a police affidavit requesting a search warrant for the clinic. Two search warrants found nothing, but officers executing a third warrant “found the decomposing body of a baby in a cardboard box in a closet,” the suit said. The baby was linked to Williams through DNA testing, the lawsuit said. An autopsy showed it had filled its lungs with air prior to death. Documents from the state Department of Health said its cause of death was determined to be “extreme prematurity.” Fewer than 1 percent of babies are born at less than 28 weeks, according to the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing premature births, birth defects and infant mortality. Infants born at that stage may survive, but require treatment with oxygen, other medical help and mechanical assistance to help them breathe. They are too immature to suck or swallow and so must be fed intravenously. Babies born before about 32 weeks of gestation face the highest risk of health problems, the March of Dimes said. Williams’ lawsuit seeks damages from Renelique, the clinic and its staff. It claims that clinic records were falsified to say only that Williams underwent an abortion. Williams filed the suit individually and “as personal representative of the estate of Shanice Denise Osbourne, deceased,” the suit said. The medical board’s action Friday came at the request of the Florida Department of Health, which filed an order in February 2007 seeking emergency restrictions on Renelique’s license. Department documents list many of the same allegations as Williams’ lawsuit. “Dr. Renelique’s failure to practice medicine with that level of care, skill and treatment that is recognized as being acceptable, as well as his willingness to falsify medical records, poses a serious and immediate danger to the public,” the health department said. Renelique did not respond to the health department or dispute the facts it alleged, department spokeswoman Eulinda Jackson said Friday. Williams has declined to speak publicly about the case, said Pennekamp, her attorney. She suffers from post-traumatic stress because of the experience, he said.