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India-born doctor charged with manslaughter in Australia

November 26, 2005 14:08 IST

An India-born doctor has been charged with manslaughter in Sydney, after she allegedly performed an illegal late-term abortion. 56-year-old Suman Sood will stand trial in the Supreme Court next year and faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

Sood allegedly gave a 20-year-old woman - who was about 23 weeks pregnant - an abortion drug in May 2002 and asked her to come back to her clinic the next day.

However, the young woman gave birth to a baby in the early hours of the morning, while on the toilet. The male child survived less than five hours, the Australian media reported on Saturday.

Sood's lawyer had argued that the young woman's evidence was unreliable because she could not remember all details of the consultation with Sood.

However, Liverpool Local Court magistrate Tony Marsden found on Friday that the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was 'straightforward and uncomplicated' and showed no ill-will or bias to the doctor. She never denied she had wanted the abortion.

He found there was a reasonable prospect of a conviction and committed Sood to trial. Sood, who in 2002 owned the Australian Women's Health abortion clinic at Fairfield in western Sydney, was charged with manslaughter and administering a drug to a woman with intent to procure a miscarriage

Reacting to the order to stand trial, Sood said she would fight the charges. "These things that have been presented and said are not the truth and I am all ready to defend and fight for it," she told The Weekend Australian.

"I don't think I have done anything wrong. It is a challenge to me personally and a challenge to the profession. This could happen to anybody - it is just distortion of  facts," Sood said.

Sood, who has sold the Australian Women's Health Clinic and is practising as a general practitioner, said she had performed almost 10,000 abortions through her two Sydney clinics.

After she was committed to stand trial, Crown prosecutor David Muddle asked the court to order the India-born doctor to surrender her passport and said that she should be placed on conditional bail.

He said she had an overseas bank account and was facing proceedings in the Court of Appeal for an earlier, unrelated conviction, giving her reasons to leave Australia, another newspaper Sydney Morning Herald reported.

But magistrate Marsden ruled against the request after hearing that Sood was an Australian citizen who had lived in the country for 16 years and whose family also lived here. Sood will become the first doctor in New South Wales to go on trial for the manslaughter of a foetus and will be the first doctor in the state charged over a termination since the early 1970s.

At the court hearing in August, prosecutors alleged the abortion was illegal because Sood had not properly assessed the woman's physical and mental health or social wellbeing.

Sood's lawyer Phillip Boulten said it would be impossible for the prosecution to prove that an experienced doctor like her did not know enough about the woman to believe the pregnancy endangered here.

Abortion is illegal in NSW unless the pregnancy poses a threat to the woman's physical or mental health, or economic or social well-being.

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