Regardless of your position on abortion rights, you should view Gov. John Kasich’s appointments to the Ohio State Medical Board with great concern.

Governors appoint members of the board, which is tasked with protecting patients by licensing certain medical providers and disciplining those who undermine patient care.

Kasich, however, is using his discretion to quietly stack the panel with members who appear to be most interested in promoting their anti-abortion views – even if it means undercutting Ohio’s vital health care sector.

If these appointees occurred in a vacuum, I would not be quite so concerned. But this governor has enacted a string of new restrictions on abortion care and repeatedly refused to take a position on the so-called heartbeat bill which is so extreme and potentially harmful to patients and doctors that the overwhelmingly anti-choice Ohio Senate refused to pass it.

Today, just 10 of the 12 Medical Board slots are filled, and three of the 10 are well-known opponents of abortion.  Kasich has filled two of the designated consumer slots with Michael Gonidakis, who heads Ohio Right to Life, and former Ohio Right to Life board member Laurie Elsass.  In April, Kasich tapped cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Sushil M. Sethi, for one of the nine physician slots.

In July, when the board discussed licensing for genetic counselors, Dr. Sethi sounded more like an Ohio Right To Life representative than a heart surgeon.  According to minutes of the meeting:

Dr. Sethi asked how the practice of genetic counseling will affect the abortion rate as more tests are developed to detect the possibility of a genetic disease in an unborn child….”

Dr. Shawn McCandless, a member of the genetics faculty at Case Western Reserve, responded: 

Dr. McCandless “opined that there is greater potential for limiting the conception of children with genetic defects than there is to increase the demand for termination.”

“Dr. Sethi asked if there are any ethical behavior controls for genetic counselors to prevent them from swaying their patients decisions regarding abortion. “

 “Dr. McCandless stated that genetic counselors have very clear and demanding ethical standards. Dr. McCandless stated that any genetic counselor who is advocating abortion or, in some way, is pushing a person to have an abortion would be in danger of losing their certification. Ethically, genetic counselors are required …  to inform patients of all legal options in a factual manner, including informing them of the many happy families who have raised a child with the genetic defect in question, as well as options for adoption. Dr. McCandless opined that there is a misconception that geneticists and genetic counselors think that abortion is a good thing.”

More than a dozen states license genetic counselors. While licensing requirements vary, each state requires a detailed set of rules that resulted from much debate.  Was Dr. Sethi really unaware of the ethical requirements common in the genetic testing field?

Joining Dr. Sethi in his concerns was fellow medical board member Mr. Gonidakis who asked “if the rapid increase in autism and the many theories as to its cause’’ could cause genetic counselors  into “ scaring couples into making decisions that probably are not the right decisions.’’

Dr. McCandless responded by saying, “counselors will serve patients by answering their questions in a factual and straight forward manner.’’

Medical board members should know that all doctors better serve patients with factual and straight forward answers


Kellie Copeland is the Executive Director at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio