Doctor Testifies Surgeon Secretly Circumcised Woman
By Christopher Baughman
Advocate Staff Writer
A doctor who assisted in the circumcision of a woman 24 years ago said in court Tuesday that he tried to stop the doctor in charge from performing the procedure.
Doctor Karl Pizzolato testified he thought Mary Ann Turner was just having routine female surgery in 1972 after giving birth to her third child.
Turner's lawyer, Richard Ducote, asked Pizzolato how he reacted when he found out the late Dr. Anthony Leggio also intended to remove the skin covering Turner's clitoris.
"I was shocked and expressed deep concern that this shouldn't be done," said Pizzolato, who was called as a witness by the plaintiff.
Turner is sueing her former husband, local anesthesiologist Dr. Alan J. Ostowe, saying he conspired with Leggio without her consent to perform the procedure at Woman's Hospital.
She claims Ostrowe wanted the operation done to heighten his own sexual pleasure, as well as hers.
The civil trial being heard by a jury of eight women and four men, resumes today before state District Judge Bob Downing. Turner asserts she did not know about the circumcision until Pizzolato, a family friend, told her about it in 1988.
However Ostrowe contends Turner consented to the surgery. She didn't object to it until 1988, when Ostowe threatened to cut off her alimony stemming from their 1983 divorce and the two fought over custody of one of their four children, he claims.
Defense lawyer Karl Koch told the jury that Turner's claim is "nonsense."
Neither Leggio nor Ostrowe, who were in the operating room but did not anaesthetize Turner, were tryinng to keep anything secret, Koch said during opening statements Tuesday.
Koch said Leggio noted the removal of the clitoral hood on all the hospital papers dealing with the surgery. Many people in the hospital reviewed those documents, he said.
And Leggio talked about the procedure in a crowded operating room in front of other doctors and nurses, Koch said.
Koch questioned why Leggio would risk his practice and reputation to perform a procedure on a woman without her consent.
"To accept this thing, you're going to have to suspend your good common sense." Koch said in his opening remarks.
But Ducote called the hospital's Consent for Treatment form "the smoking gun of the case."
Ostrowe signed the form for his wife, Ducote said in his opening statement.
"This is a totally bogus consent to conceal what they were going to do," he said.
Other hospital documents recording the surgery were not filed until two months after the operation, Ducote said.
Pizzolato and two other doctors who treated Turner all said female circumcision was an uncommon practice 24 years ago and still is today.
"I'd never heard about anyone having one until this case." Dr. Robert DiBenedetto said under questioning by Ducote.
But DiBenedetto - called to testify by Ducote - said his records do not show that Turner complained of increased sensitivity or numbness of her clitoris, as her petition claims.
And DiBenedetto who treated Turner from 1973 until he retired two years ago, testified he examined Turner and could not find any sign of the circumcision.
Ducote said after court adjourned that DiBenedetto's failure to find evidence of the circumcision did not hurt his clients case.
"I don't know what else he missed if nobody disputes the surgery was done," he said.
Turner's suit also claims Ostrowe kept her under heavy sedation during her eight-day hospital stay.
Pizzolato said he visited Turner in the hospital after the surgery, and she seemed heavily sedated.
Also she was wearing a thin negligee and risked being seen by anyone who entered her room. " I thought that was out of character for her with doctors making rounds," he said. "This is not Mary Ann, She's a lot more modest than that."
But Pizzolato said he saw Ostowe give Turner two shots containing 10 milligrams of Valium, which he called a heavy dose for a woman Turner's size.
But Pizzolato said he remained friends with Ostrowe after that. He even had Ostowe administer anesthesia to his wife in 1975, two years after he tried to stop Turner's circumcision.
"You were comfortable with Dr. Ostrowe doing that?" Koch asked Pizzolato.
"Yes, sir," Pizzolato replied.
- Christopher Baughman. Doctor Testifies Surgeon Secretly Circumcised Woman. The Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA, Wednesday, October 30, 1996: Page 2B.
THE ADVOCATE, Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, October 31, 1996.by Christopher Baughman.
A woman who claims her former husband conspired with another doctor 24 years ago to circumcise her without her consent called the procedure "surgical rape".
Mary Ann Turner said Wednesday that she is sueing her former husband, local anethesiologist Dr. Alan J. Ostrowe, so women can stand up against all forms of rape.
"That's what is is, surgical rape, when my body parts were cut off and thrown away," Turner said after her civil trial adjourned Wednesday.
"If it had been done on a back street or an alley, he'd be in jail. But because it was done in an operating room, I'm supposed to be grateful?"
Turner claims Ostrowe conspired with the late Dr. Anthony Leggio to remove the skin covering her clitoris during other routine surgery at Woman's Hospital in 1972.
Turner says she did not find out about the procedure until 1988, when another physician who was at the operation told her about it.
Ostrowe contends his wife agreed to the operation.
He says she filed suit only after he threatend to cut off alimony payments. The two divorced in 1983.
The charges lodged against him by his former wife have sullied his reputation, Ostrowe said after court adjourned Wednesday.
"The damage to be has been done, and as far as I'm concerned, my name has been mushed in mud," Ostrowe said.
The trial resumes today in District Judge Bob Downing's courtroom.
During testimony Wednesday, a doctor from Cincinatti called female circumcision "mutilation."
Dr. Bradley Busacco said he has treated 150 women who underwent the procedure without their consent, all of them at the hands of a discredited doctor in Dayton, Ohio.
Dr. James Burt, who lost his medical license, practiced the procedure between 1972 and the late 1980s on 2000 women, supposedly to enhance their sexual pleasure, Busacco said.
And except for articles Burt wrote for some Scandanavian journals, Busacco said he could not find any literature in American journals recommending the procedureto enhance sexual pleasure.
"How would you characterize this type of surgery?" Turner's lawyer Richard Ducote, asked Busacco.
"This has been characterized as a female mutilation surgery," Busacco said.
Later with the jury out of the courtroom, defense lawyer, Karl Koch suggested to Downing that he might need to declare a mistrial.
Bussacco's testimony about Burt's procedure went beyond what the two sides agreed to before the trial started, Koch argued.
Koch said the trial is sensational enough without bringing in the travails of Burt's 2,000 patients.
Koch said the judge ruled before the trial that Burt's procedures had nothing to do with the case.
But Ducote argued that Burt's work is the only literature on record.
"Dr. Burt is the body of medical history regarding this illicit surgery," Ducote said.
Downing agreed with Koch and warned Ducote against sensationalizing the case," saying It's not a National Enquirer trial."
Before that, Busacco testified that drugs Ostrowe prescribed for his former wife were similar to what he knew of Burt's procedures.
Ostrowe order 75 milligrams of the painkiller Demerol, 10 milligrams of the sedative Valium and other drugs to ease Turner's pain and to help her sleep.
Ducote asked Busacco if he'd ever seen that combination and dosage of drugs before.
Busacco said Burt used that some "cocktail" for sleep and sedation. Busacco called the drug mixture "an inordinate amount of medication."
But questioned by Koch, Busacco said the medicine and dosages did not violate a widely accepted standard of care.
Earlier in the trial, a nurse who worked at Woman's Hospital in 1972 said the consent forms signed by Ostrowe and Turner before the operation were standard for that time.
Sandra Smith testified that just writing the word "surgery" to describe the type of operation a patient was about to undergo was how things were done 24 years ago.
She also noted that Turner's signature appears on the Consent to Operation, Anesthetics, and other forms, and that a registered nurse witnessed the signatures.
[CIRP NOTE: See also Woman circumcised by ex-husband awarded $35,000 (2001).]
Return to CIRP Home Page