Do No Harm: On Dr. Edward Quilligan
How you view Doctor Edward James Quilligan likely depends on positionality. He is considered a giant in obstetrics for his early research in fetal heart rate monitoring, the first paper he published to demonstrate a correlation between fetal heart rate patterns and blood gas values of umbilical artery in the 1964 American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. This was an accelerated study because of the “synergy of the clinical studies in labor and delivery and the laboratory work led by Ted.” (Roberto Romero 547)This means he had test subjects by means of his own patients. This will become a pattern later. If you were a Doctor working under him, this is likely how you viewed him a giant- who could do little wrong. Well some Doctors anyway.
It didn’t take long for Quilligan to be recruited from Yale to the newly merged Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, where as a big name he recruited Twenty-five doctors with similar thinking as himself. (Roberto Romero 549). If you were one of the Twenty-five Doctors, Quilligan provided opportunity. If you were a resident, and did not agree with his methods well- less so.
According to an interview with Paul Stillwell- Dr Quilligan states, “ It was a lot. And we moved in, and we took over. We kind of got some people angry with us, because the attendings who’d been there, who were in private practice and just come there to teach, we didn’t always agree with what they were teaching, because it whasn’t what we thought was correct. So we made some corrections in that; they didn’t like that. We were taking away their play pen, in essence, and some of them were very unhappy. Some of them were not; some of them thought it was great. But it went from — They went from probably one of the lower departments in the country to one of the — probably the top department in the country.” (Quilligan 141)
The implication was clear; play ball or get steam rolled. The department was in disorder upon his arivval, very few people felt secure if they had not been brough in as a new worker. This helps to explain the context of what happens next, and how positionality is different when looking at Dr. Edward J. Quilligan.
Things start to get trickier for the common folk. His patients or the patients of his residents. To them he is the man that saw them as nothing more than surgical practice. He fostered an enviorment as the head of the department, that oversaw thousands of Latino and African American women sterilizied against their will.
The year is 1970 and Los Angelas County General Hospital is the only hospital for miles, Latino women would ride the bus for hours in labor to recieve medical treatment. When they arrived if they had two or more children regardless of age they would be pressured to recive permanent sterilization before recieving medication that would ease the pain of their labor. In some cases the nurse would sign for them, by holding their hand. The papers would not be in a laungauge they could understand. It was found that some women did not even know they were sterilized. Karen Beneker even testified to seeing a nurse hold a hyperdermic needle over an African American woman everytime a contraction would hit and state, “You want this,you need to sign.” (Valdez 2016)
The whistleblower in the case noticed an uptick in tubal ligations by 470% from July 1968 to July 1970, a 742% increase in elective hysterectomies, and a 151% post-delivery tubal ligations. According to Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld. (Review 1979)
When he brought this to Quilligan he was brushed off.
According to Karen Beneker during her testimony in court she had a conversation with Quilligan in which he stated,
“Poor minority women in L.A. County were having too many babies; that it was a strain on society and that it was good to be sterilized.” She also decribed the abusive practices of the hospital stemmed from the stigma of Mexican-American women as “Hyper-fertile” and the hospital had recived a federal grant to try to cut the birth rate among Mexicans and Blacks in LA County.” (Stern 2005)
Benker’s testimony was thrown out in its entirety as irrelevant.
Of the thousands of women who were impacted only ten testified, due to the statue of limitations.
The case was heard in front Judge Jesse Curtis. Quilligan vs. Madrigal was without the benefit of a jury.
Despite compelling testimony of 10 victims in the 1978 trial, the judge sided with Dr. Edward J. Quilligan.
Quilligan never testified in person.
His testimony was taken by deposition.
In an interview with Paul Stillwell, Dr. Quilligan’s memory of the situation is quite different.
“ We were doing a lot of tubal ligations for permanent sterilization.We had a young intern- I can’t remember whether it was an intern or a medical student who came there, who was an activist, and who felt that we weren’t counseling them properly for tubal ligations.And so he got a group of women together, Hispanic mainly, who sued us for doing tubal ligations without proper consent.And we won the suit.It was thrown out of court. In retrospect, I’m sure that some of our residents might have a little excessive salesmanship going when these women would come in, you know, having their sixth or eighth baby.” (Quilligan 145)
In an unpublished opinion, the judged sided with the County Hospital, citing that the doctors had the interest of the patients in mind when deciding to persue these procedures and that the doctors did not do anything wrong. He conveyed that the procedure was not objectionable if a physician belived that a tubal ligation could improve a perceived overpopulation problem, as long as said physician did not tory to “overpower the will of his patients.” Additionally he asserted that there was a break down in communication between the doctors and the patients. (Stern 2005)
The women were awarded no damages. There is now there is a 72-hour mandatory wait period before a sterilization can be performed after giving birth. The State of California also revoked its sterilization law, which had enabled over 20,000 unauthorized sterilization to occur.(Valdez 2016)
The legal precedent that this case was argued was Roe vs. Wade.It is unclear how much damage will happen state by the state should Roe be overturned.It is interesting to note-Dr. Quilligan has 6 children himself. It never occured to him that he is part of an over population problem.
Currently, there is a scholarship called Quilligans scholars, or the Residents. The requirements for this scholarship are as follows.You must be a forward-thinking, civic-minded doctor, interested in maternal-fetal medicine, from a diverse background, with the potential to be a leader. This fellowship is worth around 120,000- and lasts for 2 years and is located in Texas.
Postionality is a funny thing. To a very elite crowd, Dr. Edward J. Quilligan is a “God of Obstetrics” however to thousands of women, he is the monster under their bed. He is not just a symbol of what it means to have your bodily autonomy taken away, he is the grand architect of why they had their dreams cut short. That is a most terrible thing indeed.
Quilligan, Dr. Edward James, interview by Paul Stillwell. 2015. Conversations with Dr. Edward Quilligan: Life and Times (December 28).
Review, DePual Law. 1979. Sterilization Abuse: A Proposed Regulatory Scheme, 28 DePaul L Rev. 731 (1979). Law Review, Chicago : DePaul University.
Roberto Romero, MD, DMedSci, Editor-In-Cheif for Obstetrics. 2017. “A profile of Dr Edward J. Quilligan.” Giants in Obstetrics and Gynacology 547–551.
Stern, Alexandra. 2005. “Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America.” 200–208. Berkeley: UC Berkeley.
Valdez, Marcela. 2016. “When Doctors Took Family Planning Into Their Own Hands.” New York Times, February 1: I-5.