Orange is the New White or “You Can’t Fix Evil”

Orange Is the New White Or
“You Can’t Fix Evil”


Leonard Zwelling

         Approaching the courthouse today, something felt different.
I was very cognizant of my freedom. As I saw the police unload a small van two handcuffed prisoners in orange jump suits
in it, I thought about breathing. I don’t often think about breathing the air,
but today, I did. The prisoners and I were breathing the same air, but I
suspect mine felt less constricting, at least my lungs and heart did for I was
free to turn around and return to my car had I cared to. They were not.


         I had gotten used to having no idea what was happening
around me at 1201 Franklin. This is not my element. Hospitals, clinics,
operating rooms and emergency centers, even those with an inch of blood on the
floor, were not foreign to me. Sitting behind US Senators in a hearing room on
Capitol Hill had become comfortable. This place is like a different planet to
me, a planet to which I did not want to return.

         On Monday morning at 8:55 AM, September 29, 2014, for the
first time in two weeks, the attorneys for the defense sat at their side of the
table without the defendant. She was no longer the defendant. She was the
convicted and she had not yet appeared. When we last saw her on Friday, she was
being led out the door to jail, looking very small, very frail, very somber and
very grey.

Gonzalez-Angulo reappeared in the courtroom at 9:05 striding through the jail door
she had exited last week and hugging her lawyers. She looked even smaller. She
was still dressed in a grey suit.

closing arguments began following the judge’s review of the jury’s penalty options.
The prosecution started by simply re-explaining the options for sentencing to
the jury.

defense followed by asking for community supervision (probation) based on the
fact that the act for which Dr. Gonzalez was convicted was but a small portion
of her otherwise exemplary life and its many contributions to society. The
defense also argued that probation is not, “just walking out of here.”

defense once again did a very poor job. It did not demonstrate how probation is
either punitive or rehabilitative when measured against what Dr. Gonzalez did
to Dr. Blumenschein. Defense counsel talked too much and said very little new
about the convicted. He also did not sketch out what Dr. Gonzalez’s life would
be like on probation. How would that be sufficiently punitive for what she had
stolen from Dr. Blumenschein? The jurors needed to hear that and they did not. This
seemed like an error to me for if the jury wants its pound of flesh, it would
have been more likely to grant probation if they understood how the convicted
would still be punished and or rehabilitated. There could be no comments with
regard to her keeping her medical license, something I expect is very unlikely.

         Then the Assistant District Attorney went to work. He pulled
out the large, sketchpad on an easel that had been used throughout the trial by
others. On it, he wrote a large vertical line and a large circle to its right.
That stood for the ten years which is the upper limits of any sentence meted
out by the jury that would allow community supervision. Then, with two strokes
of the marker he turned the one into an N and the board read NO.

         He pounded, but quietly. Dr. Blumenschein has had life taken
from him. People who could be his future patients, just like patients who Dr.
Gonzalez might have helped had she not committed this felony, may well be
denied his healing efforts. But the ADA’s most powerful argument for the 30-year
sentence he requested was simple. He said:

         “You can’t fix evil. She has no problem lying. She
manipulated everyone. And the only reason we are talking about probation is
that she has a D and an R and a period before her name.”

         He then quoted the Hippocratic oath about physicians not
using poisons and the consequences of not obeying that oath. It was a very
powerful presentation.

         The jury returned at about 1:40 PM with a sentence of 10 years
without the possibility of probation plus a $10,000 fine, which my courtroom
contacts tell me no one pays. Who knew? Dr. Gonzalez-Angulo will serve at least
5 years beore she is eligible for parole. For her, this chapter is over. For
Dr. Bluemenschein, the question of his future at MD Anderson remains to be
written. It may be difficult to work with a host of people who you have deceived,
but that’s a chapter only Dr. Bluemnschein and Evette Toney can write.

the sentence was handed down, the media swarmed. The defense was respectful of
the decision but, of course, disagreed with it. In consulting with my new
learned legal friends, the evidence that was probably kept out of the trial,
but which surfaced in the penalty phase of the defendant, now convicted, having
told people she had others killed, would have only weakened the defense case,
which was weak anyway. I guess they were counting on errors by the prosecution.
The prosecution made no errors and, in fact, was masterful in its presentation
of an otherwise circumstantial case. No smoking gun. No eyewitnesses. Guilty.
No doubt. Let’s move on.

what about those left behind?

claim physicians might have had to the moral high ground has been supplanted by
enough bad behavior to fill at least a season of Dallas, Dynasty and The
Sopranos. And that was just the docs in the Division of Cancer Medicine at MD

         Let’s total the damage.

1. The previous President of MD Anderson, a medical
oncologist, had close business associates at both Enron and ImClone

2. He also had severe conflicts of interest uncovered
when it was made public that patients at the cancer center which he oversaw had
participated in clinical trials using the drug that he invented and sponsored
by the company on whose board he sat and whose stock he owned. None of the
patients were aware of his involvement. 
These business entanglements were very lucrative for the President. (On
October 29, 2001, he sold 90,000 shares of ImClone stock at $70 per share.)

3. The current President of the cancer center who is not
an oncologist stands accused of manipulating a large state grant program for a
huge allocation to MD Anderson, self-dealing on national television, nepotism
in the appointment of his wife to a prominent role with many perks and a
personal demeanor nothing short of outright rude with members of the faculty
whose efforts are essentially paying his very large salary.

4. A member of the Division of Cancer Medicine was living
with one woman while collaborating in both research and bed with another member
of the Cancer Medicine faculty who subsequently was convicted of committing aggravated
assault (see above) for trying to poison him with ethylene glycol.

5. Several members of the convicted physician’s department
at MD Anderson heard the accused claim to have had people killed in her native
Colombia. If they believed it, shouldn’t they have said something before their
colleague was poisoned? If they did not believe her, weren’t they concerned
about a prevaricating soul sister caring for patients while fabricating her own
criminal history a la Bonnie Parker in a white coat? And once the man they knew
was the object of their colleague’s affections was hospitalized poisoned and
their colleague confided knowing the identity of the offending poison before it
was generally clear to the patient’s own doctors, fearing she would be the one
most likely to be accused of the deed, shouldn’t one of them have said
something to the authorities investigating the crime rather than wait 14 months
to come forward?

6. Even after their colleague was in the ICU having been
poisoned, why did none of these faculty members, almost all of whom were women,
not assist the authorities in getting to the bottom of the highly suspect deed?

7. Why did several MD Anderson faculty members examine
the medical records of their fallen colleague despite having no role in his
care, an action that is against federal HIPAA regulations?

8. Have these doctors all gone mad or were they content
having one of their own trade in her white coat for an orange jump suit while
they got on with their lives?

sure hope someone at MD Anderson takes a long, hard look at this litany of bad
behavior and tries to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it from
happening again.

than a few professional and personal reputations have been shattered by the
trial that transpired in the past two weeks. Some careers are ruined. Others
surely tainted. Most importantly, trust has been broken by deceit and lies,
perhaps in a manner beyond repair. Will the word of these people ever be
considered true again, whether in their personal lives or their scientific

I previously wrote, the selection of a new leader for the Division in which
this all occurred might be a good first step in healing, but it will take far
more than that. Care must be offered to those still working in this Division who
were caught up in the web of lies and deceit that unfolded as an entire
institution stood by and watched this mid-air collision take place in slow
motion. Even the Faculty Assistance Program may not be enough counseling for
those in need. Nothing should be taken for granted and no one should ever be
believed who says he or she is “fine.” No one is fine. I don’t even work there
any longer and I am not fine. I am a damned long way from fine.

spent the last two weeks wallowing in depravity and the rehashing of people
being so self-concerned and self-absorbed as to allow a colleague in clear
distress to go so far as to almost kill another, I am certain action is needed.

On behalf of my friends and colleagues who have come through a terrible ordeal,
some of which was their own making and some of which was the fruit of a very
poisonous work environment in which they were trying to keep their heads above
water, while not losing those same heads to the administration, get these folks some help.

sure as the trauma that accompanies a police officer who kills another human in
the line of duty, even if that action was appropriate, these people, almost all
women, need some compassion and assistance.

may not be wearing orange jump suits, but make no mistake they are prisoners of
the memories of what they did and didn’t do and their having to tell about it
in public. This healing assistance to get them back to their white-coated best
should not be optional.

deserve our help and their patients surely do, too.

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