New Pa. law addresses rare crime of posing as doctor

     The West Philadelphia site of the abortion clinic run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell. A new Pennsylvania law stiffens the penalty for posing as a doctor, as was the case with two of Gosnell's employees. Gosnell was convicting of killing three viable babies.(AP file photo)

    The West Philadelphia site of the abortion clinic run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell. A new Pennsylvania law stiffens the penalty for posing as a doctor, as was the case with two of Gosnell's employees. Gosnell was convicting of killing three viable babies.(AP file photo)

    Phony medical doctors will face stiffer penalties under a Pennsylvania law taking effect later this summer.

    Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, proposed the change in response to the grand jury that recommended charges against Kermit Gosnell in 2010. The doctor was convicted in 2013 of killing three babies in his West Philadelphia abortion clinic.

    But the grand jury report singles out two of Gosnell’s employees, who were passing themselves off as doctors despite not being licensed.

    “The grand jury believed that increasing the penalty for doing that was an appropriate thing to do in response,” said Casey Long, a policy aide to Scarnati.

    A House analysis of the measure notes only eight people in the last five years have been convicted of lying about a professional license in Pennsylvania. None was pretending to be a doctor.

    But Scarnati, Long said, thinks “the Gosnell case in and of itself is evidence that there is need for a deterrent.”

    The new law will increase the maximum sentence for impersonation to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

    Previously, offenders faced up to two years in prison and a fine as high as $5,000 – the same maximum sentence facing those who impersonate notaries or licensed professionals including  engineers and nurses.

    The Pennsylvania Medical Society described its position on the measure as “generally supportive.”

    “This was not something we prioritized because we don’t think it does happen very often,” said Scot Chadwick, the group’s legislative counsel. “But even one harmed patient would be one too many.”

    The measure passed unanimously in both legislative chambers. It was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in late June.

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