Abortion case surgeon tells of deep regret

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The Independent Online
A hospital consultant told a court yesterday that he was wrong to carry out an abortion on a childless woman who did not realise she was pregnant.

Reginald Dixon, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, aborted the 11-week- old foetus during a routine hysterectomy.

He denies unlawfully procuring a miscarriage during the operation in March 1993 on Barbara Whiten, now 38, at the King's Mill hospital, Sutton- in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire,

Mr Dixon, 58, stopped giving evidence last Thursday after suffering stress. In the witness box yesterday, he said he decided to continue with the operation and so abort the foetus. He said: "I felt I had made a particularly hard and difficult decision which has turned out to be wrong, which I very much regret. It is an extraordinary situation. I continued with the operation with considerable trepidation, I was anxious.

"At the time, I believed I was doing the right thing. The easiest thing for me to do would have been to have just taken a look, closed the abdomen and walked away. I was trying to do the best for my patient, but that would have been doing the best for myself."

Mr Dixon said he continued with the surgery because he feared his patient would suffer serious mental problems if the child was allowed to be born. He also feared the foetus might not be healthy, because of the drugs he thought Mrs Whiten was taking to ease her womb condition, which was the reason for the original operation.

He said: "I felt, having reviewed the total situation of her ongoing problems and previous history of mental instability, that the best solution for her future mental health was that I continue the operation." He said that her age, which was then 35, was also influential.

"Mrs Whiten told her doctor that she never wanted a pregnancy at any time. I know that many professional women reach a stage in their lives when what they want to do is get on with their careers and not start a family, and that can be very important. Sometimes it is purely financial. In the great majority of patients that I have encountered in circumstances similar to Mrs Whiten's, the patients ask for the operation to be carried on."

Mrs Whiten has told Nottingham Crown Court she desperately wanted the child. But Mr Dixon said yesterday: "I think that the new life that she had been hoping for would have been shattered - that is a symptom-free life and the chance to concentrate on her work." He said he tried to contact her husband before completing the operation and discussed it with the anaesthetist, who agreed that surgery should continue.

Mr Dixon told his patient about the operation the following day, when she had recovered from the general anaesthetic. Mrs Whiten said in evidence that he had mentioned the pregnancy only in passing and had left her distressed and confused.

But Mr Dixon denied that and said he had sat on her bed and held her hand as he told her what happened. "I said, 'I am sincerely sorry. I have something to tell you about the operation. I am very much afraid you may have been pregnant.'

"She gave me a polite smile and her exact words were 'Don't worry, you did the right thing,'" said Mr Dixon. He said she was not distressed, and she was not angry when a report from the pathologist later confirmed she had been pregnant.

The case continues today.