Conned by Dr. Wonderful

When I was in training, someone told me that lay people judge doctors by the three A’s:

Affability
Availability
and last and definitely least
Ability

I was reminded of that while read that Barbara Herrera, Navelgazing Midwife, is shocked, shocked to learn that Robert Biter, MD, aka “Dr. Wonderful,” was not what he seemed.

So, I guess I’m eating huge troughs of crow right now. Embarrassed that I supported someone who seemed so genuine, who really seemed to care about women’s rights in birth. And while he might believe he does, when one sets up another human being for the possibility to die from neglect, I have a really hard time understanding where that person… Dr. Biter … is coming from.

Herrera acknowledges:

… [E]ven as we marched for him in front of the hospital that booted him, stories began emerging about his lackadaisical care, his stretching of the boundaries of safety in homebirths and eventually, I sat and listened as new moms relayed stories that made my toes curl …

Funny. That’s not how I remember it. Herrera was chief among the many women (including Ricki Lake and Rixa Freeze) competing to defend his behavior. As I wrote at the time in Why do natural childbirth advocates participate in their own humiliation?:

Barb Herrera, Navelgazing Midwife, has just written an astounding post that sets a new standard in enabling a “Dr. Wonderful”. You can read the piece here. Barb acknowledges that Dr. Biter is currently facing 6 malpractice lawsuits; she confirms that Dr. Biter was reinstated only so that he could resign and avoid the consequences of a suspension; she glosses over the fact that Dr. Biter, her friend and colleague, never bothered to tell her about those lawsuits or the truth about the reasons for his suspension; she proudly declares that Dr. Biter is giving his approval to what she writes on his behalf. And then … she ignores that information in order to continue to support the man that just abetted her public humiliation.

This is not the first time that something like this has happened. Dr. Stuart Fischbein is still receiving the support of natural childbirth advocates even after his conviction for sexual exploitation of a patient.

Why do NCB advocates routinely participate in their own humiliation, defending indefensible behavior on the part of male obstetricians?

It’s because judge doctors by the three A’s. They fixate on affability and willingly close their eyes to everything else. It’s because NCB emphasizes process at the expense of outcome; the Dr. Wonderfuls are more than willing to collude in such beliefs because their outcomes are often less than ideal. It’s because NCB advocates are desperate for praise and affirmation. They will unquestioningly accept the behavior of any male obstetrician who unquestioningly accepts their unscientific, untested methods of practice.

There is a lot that Herrera and her cohorts could learn from this shameful, completely avoidable episode:

1. When obstetricians with unorthodox methods have unsuccessful outcomes, NCB advocates should ask themselves whether the unorthodox methods are to blame, not conclude that the unorthodox methods have made them targets of unwarranted suspicion.

2. When a Dr. Wonderful loses his privileges, they should wait to find out why, not automatically assume that it is personal retaliation.

3. They should find out the malpractice history of the Dr. Wonderful. Any obstetrician who faces 6 lawsuits after less than 10 years of practice should raise alarm bells.

4. When a Dr. Wonderful is convicted of sexual exploitation, they should drop him like a rock.

5. They should never give money to a Dr. Wonderful who solicits from his patients.

6. They should never give money to charity set up by a Dr. Wonderful if the money is to be deposited in his personal bank account.

7. NCB and homebirth advocates need to look within themselves and figure out why they are so easily conned by any male obstetricians who flatter them, and why they cannot recognize that flattery for what it is, a transparent effort to drum up business and hide professional and personal transgressions.

Finally, NCB and homebirth advocates need to start judging practitioners, whether obstetricians or midwives, by their professional abilities, and recognize that affability is not the best way to choose a provider.

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