THE FORUM, Fargo, ND, Friday, 7 February 2003.

Mother says she didn't know about risks

By Jeff Baird

The Forum - 02/07/2003

When Anita Flatt gave birth to her son at MeritCare Hospital five years ago, she hadn't slept all day.

There were complications.

Her water wouldn't break and had to be pierced manually. She was put on pain medication, but it wasn't helping.

Then, with her doctor out of the room, she screamed. Nurses rushed in and delivered her son.

Later on March 6, 1997, Flatt signed a consent form to have her son circumcised, she told a jury Thursday in Cass County District Court.

Flatt of Hawley, Minn., is suing Dr. Sunita Kantak and Fargo-based MeritCare Hospital claiming she and her husband, James, weren't told complete and accurate information about removing the foreskin from their son's penis.

Flatt told the jury Thursday she had not received any information prior to her son's birth about the risks and benefits of circumcision.

She says she never received the booklet MeritCare gives out to parents, and only talked to Kantak briefly about the pain involved before the procedure was performed.

Had Flatt understood the risks involved in the procedure, she wouldn't have had it done, she said.

Attorney Zenas Baer started his examination by asking Flatt why she had filed the lawsuit.

"He was subjected to an unnecessary surgery and he was harmed and he has an injury," Flatt, an attorney at Baer's law firm, told the jury.

That injury, she claims, is the loss of a healthy and functional foreskin.

The trial, which enters day five today, recessed with Baer still examining Flatt.

Most of the focus Thursday was on the plaintiff's other two witnesses, Drs. Christopher Cold of Marshfield, Wis., and Robert Van Howe of Marquette, Mich.

After three days of listening to them speak on the benefits of foreskin and barbarity of circumcision, defense attorneys Jane Voglewede and Angela Lord got their chance to cross-examine.

Both men admitted they are morally against infant circumcision, are not licensed to perform circumcision, aren't involved in getting patient informed consent for circumcision and have financially supported anti-circumcision groups.

The exchanges between witnesses and defense attorneys were at times sharp.

When Cold, whose answers to Baer's questions at times resembled classroom lectures, tried to answer a yes-no question with another question, Lord cut him short.

"I'll ask the questions," she said.

Voglewede showed the jury a letter Baer had written to Van Howe in 1998.

It included the medical records of Flatt's child and asked if he thought there was the potential for a lawsuit.

In his response, Van Howe said he thought it would be very "difficult to demonstrate that (Flatt's son) has been harmed in any way."

Baer later said the letter did not specifically address the informed consent issue.

Flatt is asking for an unspecified amount in damages.

MeritCare officials left the courtroom without comment.

The trial is expected to conclude next week. East Central District Court Judge Cynthia Rothe-Seeger is presiding over the case.

"They are trying to portray it as a cabal that is opposed to circumcision," Baer said following the trial. "All we are trying to do is to protect those who cannot protect themselves, to keep them in tact so they are not abused in a ritualistic way."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Baird at (701) 241-5535

(File prepared 7 February 2003)