A Georgia couple who said their baby boy was decapitated during his birth have filed a lawsuit against the independent pathologist who performed the baby’s autopsy, accusing him of posting the procedure on Instagram without their permission.
Jessica Ross and her boyfriend, Treveon Isaiah Taylor, had already filed a lawsuit in August against the OB-GYN who conducted their baby’s delivery. They accused the OB-GYN of failing to follow emergency protocols when the baby’s shoulder became stuck and of applying excessive force that severed their son’s head and killed him.
The lawsuit also accuses the hospital and staff of attempting to cover up what happened. (The hospital denied the allegations of wrongdoing in a previous statement to HuffPost, and the OB-GYN has not responded to repeated requests for comment.)
The Clayton County Police Department has confirmed on social media that it has opened an investigation into the hospital’s alleged failure to report on the nature of the newborn’s death.
In the more recent lawsuit, filed on Sept. 1, attorneys for Ross and Taylor accused Dr. Jackson Gates, the pathologist the couple hired to conduct an autopsy after their child’s death, of taking advantage of the tragedy by posting videos of the procedure to his 11,000 followers on Instagram without their permission. The complaint accuses Gates of invasion of privacy and fraud.
“After suffering one of the most heartbreaking losses any family could ever endure, Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor, Jr. had salt poured into their unfathomable emotional wounds when they discovered that video of their baby’s very graphic medical examination had been made public by the very doctor they entrusted to conduct the autopsy,” attorneys representing the couple said in a joint statement.
Gates, who regularly posts videos of his work for educational and public health purposes, didn’t respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. In a statement on Instagram, he said he would never share the identity of any of his patients. The videos have been taken down, and HuffPost could not immediately verify what Gates had shared.
Ross and Taylor had been eagerly looking forward to the birth of their baby boy, whom they were going to name after his father.
On July 9, Ross was admitted to the emergency room of Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale, Georgia, after her water broke. The doctor she’d been seeing throughout her pregnancy, Dr. Tracey St. Julian of Premier Woman OB-GYN, delivered the baby on July 10.
But according to the lawsuit, the baby became stuck in Ross’ vaginal canal, forcing her to push for three hours. It wasn’t until after the baby’s head was severed that Ross received a C-section, when the rest of the baby’s body was delivered, the lawsuit states.
Ross and Taylor’s suit alleges that they only found out their baby had been decapitated after the funeral home informed them on July 13, because the doctor, hospital and staff had hidden the cause of death from them.
The couple then decided to have an independent autopsy conducted and paid Gates $2,500.
According to the lawsuit, Gates recorded videos of the baby’s autopsy without their knowledge and then posted them on his public Instagram account on July 14 without permission.
“This video showed in graphic and grisly detail a postmortem examination of the
decapitated, severed head of Baby Isaiah,” the lawsuit states.
After that video was removed, the lawsuit alleges, Gates posted two more videos of the baby’s autopsy on July 21 that graphically depicted the baby’s head, body, brain and organs.
The couple felt “shock, anger, humiliation and outrage” after learning about the videos and sent Gates a cease and desist letter on Aug. 10 demanding he take them down, the lawsuit says.
“This is one of the most egregious and outrageous cases of ‘clout chasing’ we have ever encountered,” the couple’s attorneys said. “Dr. Jackson Gates attempted to exploit our clients’ horrific loss to boost his own social media profile, without permission of the family.”
The federal patient privacy law, HIPAA, prohibits medical practitioners from releasing certain identifying information about patients, including names and full-face photographic images. Social media guidelines for pathologists encourage using common sense when they post photos or videos of their work and suggest altering any case details that could inadvertently identify someone.
“None of these alterations are legally required, but, from an ethics perspective, they could help allay anxiety about potential privacy violations while preserving educational value,” a 2016 article in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics said.
The article notes that pathologists have not routinely sought patient consent when they share educational images in textbooks, lectures and case reports.
“This is a widely accepted long-standing practice in pathology, and, provided that privacy is protected, the authors find no major ethical problems with this practice,” the article said.
In Gates’ posts, he often shows internal organs as he advocates for people to learn the warning signs of disease, get regular cancer screenings or seek a second medical opinion if they have concerns. He’s also spoken out about the health disparities experienced by Black patients, including infant mortality rates.
In one video since the lawsuit was filed, Gates said he prides himself on keeping his practice transparent in order to educate and counsel patients.
“I will never divulge the identity or disclose the identity of any live patient or even deceased patients that come to my care,” Gates said.
In the statement posted on Instagram, he added that the case is now in the hands of law enforcement and various attorneys, as well as the Georgia Composite Medical Board, which he said asked for his photos and videos of the autopsy.
He added he had not expected to find the baby’s head severed when he arrived for the autopsy and described his immediate response.
“I cried and I prayed and then I cried and I prayed because I had NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS — so I completed the autopsy!” he wrote.