The D.C. corporation counsel signed an agreement with Dr. Milan Vuitch yesterday that prevents the doctor from practicing medicine within the District of Columbia.
Under the arrangement, Vuitch, 69, the owner of the now-closed Laurel abortion clinic, is free to practice in Maryland and Virginia, where he also holds medical licenses. In past years, Vuitch has operated clinics in suburban Maryland and Virginia. Vuitch could not be reached for comment.
The corporation counsel's consent decree makes moot the effort of the city's physician licensing board to revoke Vuitch's license. "There's nothing we can do," said Dr. Barrington Barnes, chairman of the D.C. Healing Arts Commission, which had asked the corporation counsel's office to prepare formal charges against Vuitch for a revocation proceeding. "We are not lawyers. It may not be satisfactory for protection of the public, but it must be the most legally feasible way."
The Healing Arts Commission asked the city to take action last month against Vuitch's license based on the January complaint of a George Washington University doctor who treated some of Vuitch's patients on an emergency basis. City investigators have cited Vuitch and his clinic repeatedly over the past four years for improper use of anethesia, including a 1980 case in which a 32-year-old West Virginia woman died after an abortion at the clinic.
When a state or the District revokes a license, many other states can take similar action without engaging in the time-consuming practice of developing their own charges. But when a doctor surrenders his license under a consent decree arrangement, other states have no formal proceedings with which to bring disciplinary action.
"It is what is popularly known in medical circles as 'surrender and run,' " R. Thomas Carter, general counsel to the Kentucky State Board of Medical Licensure, told Congress in recent testimony on the practice of states "exporting" doctors they consider to be problems. The National Federation of State Medical Boards also has urged its member states to give new attention to the problem of doctors who have been the subject of disciplinary proceedings holding licenses in other states.
Inez Smith Reid, director of the corporation counsel's office, said she chose a license surrender from Vuitch "because there was no guarantee that we would win a revocation hearing. Our greatest risk is that if we lost, that the clinic would be permitted to reopen."
When asked if the licensing board's evidence was weak, Reid said she had no comment. "It was a very difficult judgment," she said. "I believe I have protected the public."
She said that copies of the consent decree would be sent to the other states where Vuitch holds licenses. "What is to prevent the authorities in Maryland and Virginia from regulating Vuitch?" she said.
Vuitch, who has held a D.C. medical license since 1955, was arrested 16 times by District, Virginia, Maryland and federal authorities on charges he performed abortions before the operations were declared legal by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. Vuitch also has fought several malpractice awards against him from women or their survivors who allege that he treated them improperly. Vuitch said he has not had malpractice insurance for two decades and is appealing all court awards against him.
His clinic in downtown Washington operated without a city license for the past two years.
When it became publically known that the clinic was unlicensed, the City Council quickly gave the mayor emergency power to close health facilities he judged to be a danger. Under that authority, the mayor closed the clinic Nov. 27 pending a hearing. The city's consent decree permanently closes the clinic.