Doc charged in woman's post-surgery death

BOSTON — Laura Hope Smith was 22 years old and 13 weeks pregnant when she went to see a Cape Cod doctor for an abortion. She was pronounced dead later that day.

Prosecutors charged the doctor with manslaughter, alleging that he failed to monitor her while she was under anesthesia, delayed calling 911 when she went into cardiopulmonary arrest, and later lied to try to cover up his actions.

Rapin Osathanondh, an obstetrician who was also a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, goes on trial today in Barnstable Superior Court. The trial begins on the third anniversary of Smith's death.

Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe, whose office is prosecuting Osathanondh, would not discuss the case right before trial, but after Osathanondh was indicted in 2008, O'Keefe called his conduct "willful, wanton and reckless."

Osathanondh, 67, resigned his medical license the same day the state Board of Registration in Medicine issued a scathing list of charges against him, alleging that he had "engaged in conduct that calls into question his competence to practice medicine."

The board said Osathanondh did not have any means of monitoring Smith's heart, and did not have oxygen or a functioning blood pressure cuff in the room during Smith's surgery. The board also alleged that he "failed to adhere to basic cardiac life support protocol" and did not call 911 in a timely manner.

Osathanondh was also accused of deceiving staff members by claiming he gave Smith oxygen during the procedure and by saying that Smith was monitored by a pulse oximeter during her procedure. Neither step was taken, the board said.

Osathanondh's lawyer, Paul Cirel, called Smith's death a tragedy, but said Osathanondh gave her good care.

"It's an unfortunate fact of medicine that rarely — but sometimes — patients die, even when they are being given the best of care," Cirel said.

Attorney David Angueira, who represents Smith's parents in a lawsuit they filed against the doctor, called the criminal case the family's "quest for justice."

"They firmly believe that this man is responsible for the death of their beautiful daughter and that he should be punished in accordance with the law for what he did," Angueira said.