Lawsuit Claims New Mexico Clinic Broke Informed Consent Laws

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Lawsuit Claims New Mexico Clinic Broke Informed Consent Laws

Nicole Knight

Jessica Duran had signed a medical consent form that stated: "I understand that the tissue and parts will be removed during the procedure, and I consent to their examination and their use in medical research and their disposal by the clinic and/or physician in the manner they deem appropriate."

A New Mexico women is suing an abortion provider, claiming Southwestern Women’s Options failed to inform her that the fetal tissue she donated to science would be used by the University of New Mexico (UNM).

Jessica Duran, 26, said at a press conference Monday that she “was never informed that my baby’s body was going to be used for research at the University of New Mexico,” according to a statement released by New Mexico Alliance for Life. The anti-choice organization said it has been investigating the university and the clinic for a year.

University of New Mexico (UNM) and Southwestern Women’s Options have been among those in the crosshairs of a Republican-led investigative panel that scientists warn is having a chilling effect on necessary research.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who heads that congressional panel, has alleged that UNM and Southwestern Women’s Options violated state and federal law with regard to fetal tissue donations, and has subpoenaed hundreds of pages of documents. Currently, none of the more than dozen state and federal investigations into abortion providers, including Blackburn’s panel, have found any evidence of wrongdoing.

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Duran’s lawsuit, which was filed in New Mexico Second Judicial Court on November 30, cites documents obtained by Blackburn’s panel about fetal donations between the clinic and the university around the time that Duran terminated her pregnancy at the clinic.

Duran ended her pregnancy at Albuquerque’s Southwestern Women’s Options in 2012. Southwestern Women’s Options is a member in good standing with the National Abortion Federation, and follows the federation’s evidence-based clinical policy guidelines, which lays out standards for informed consent.

The complaint names the clinic and three doctors: Dr. Curtis W. Boyd, Dr. Shelley Sella, and Dr. Carmen Landau. According to the complaint, Landau performed the abortion care procedure; Sella signed Duran’s Medicaid eligibility form; and Boyd trains and supervises the clinic’s doctors, making him responsible for both Landau and Sella.

The 22-page complaint accuses the clinic and three doctors of violating informed consent laws and of failing “to disclose their collaboration with the University of New Mexico in research projects for the last 20 years.”

Duran believed her donation would remain with Dr. Boyd or the clinic, according to the court filing. She signed a medical consent form that stated: “I understand that the tissue and parts will be removed during the procedure, and I consent to their examination and their use in medical research and their disposal by the clinic and/or physician in the manner they deem appropriate.” The signed consent form was included with the court filing.

The complaint references documents subpoenaed by Blackburn’s congressional investigation that indicate that the university picked up two fetal specimens from the clinic on October 17, 2012. Duran believes one of those samples was her donation. A spokesperson with New Mexico Alliance for Life told Rewire in an email that Duran has been trying to get her medical records from the clinic without success. She did not elaborate as to what research Duran had believed her donations would be used for.

Duran is seeking unspecified damages under the state Unfair Trade Practices Act and for an injunction to stop the clinic from seeking voluntary fetal tissue donations. She claims in the court filing that she suffered emotional distress and mental anguish because she was not made aware of the doctor’s ties to fetal research at the University of New Mexico.

“I was never informed that there was even a relationship between my abortion doctor and UNM—that my abortion doctor was actually ‘faculty’ at UNM,” Duran said in a statement on Monday.

The complaint fails to explain exactly why the clinic’s ties to UNM distressed Duran.

Duran is seeking punitive damages for the doctors’ actions that she alleges were “willful, wanton, and reckless.”

“Southwestern Women’s Options has been caring for New Mexico women and their families for more than 40 years,” Heather Brewer, spokesperson for Southwestern Women’s Options, said in an emailed statement on Monday. “During that time, the clinic has provided quality care in accordance with state regulations. While the clinic has not yet been served with the suit released to the media today, Southwestern Women’s Options stands by their procedures and their long-time commitment to providing women and their families with the highest quality care.”

Blackburn’s panel has been pushing for separate charges against the university and Southwestern Women’s Options for months. In June, Blackburn sent the New Mexico attorney general’s office nearly 300 pages of documents allegedly incriminating the clinic and UNM in profiting from fetal tissue donations. The attorney general’s office has not pressed charges against the provider or university.