Remembering Picasso, The House of Charnel, and A Medical Holocaust

This news article in the BMJ, which is fast becoming my favorite medical reading, is disturbing, to say the least, on several levels. (1)

But before I proceed any further I would like to draw your attention to three words in the title of the article: Baby Charnel House. So what exactly is a charnel house? By definition, as we all know, this means a place where human remains, especially skeletons are stacked. These buildings are normally situated in close approximation of church graveyards, so as to manage the human remains that may turn up from time to time.

But one personally intriguing thing is the fact that Picasso has a landmark painting by the same name: The Charnel House. Here is a low res sample, thanks to the Museum of Modern Art website.


Drawn in 1944-1945, this depicts the impact of the war years on Picasso. This is believed to be his response to the news of death camps which started to filter through at this point of time. As the horror stories spread, Picasso depicted his version of the issue via the easel. In Charnel House, Picasso depicts the decimation of a family.

In what has been a hotly debated and discussed work of art amongst the critics, this picture is a marriage of surrealism and cubism, in my opinion. It is not a summarized presentation of the horrors of the war and death camps, but rather a deft imagery of the same. The picture has an unfinished air. There is a monochromatic feel which makes the picture seem dead to the eyes. How deftly the artist manages to portray the stench of death in the room using subtle nuances is the best part for me.

Coming back to the article that spawned this stream of consciousness.babyaborted22

The article speaks of how Dr. Kermit Gosnell, from Philadelphia, ran a shoddy abortion clinic where he delivered, aborted and even murderedterm neonates. Read the article, it is freely accessible. What especially angers me after reading this article is the fact that this could happen in a developed country like USA. What is more distressing is the fact that the grand Jury that sat on the case remarked:

“We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color and because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.” (1)

This, in today’s world? The Grand Jury report maybe accessed HERE and a read confirms that there are more such pieces of horrors to be unearthed. The abominable conditions described here would put a third world (are we even supposed to say that anymore?) Obstetric facility to shame. While there are talks of millions of dollars in business being run here, it is a horror which transcends the mere metrics of money. It is a crime against humanity in itself. Apparently, the clinic was also tacitly involved in distribution of controlled narcotics in such a manner as to promote resale of the same on the streets.

How apt, therefore, is the comparison with Picasso’s work? It is indeed nothing short of a holocaust in the medical world, where bodies upon bodies pile up, in an unregulated, unmetered run. The twenty century’s cycle, all leading us towards dust…


1. Tanne JH. Philadelphia doctor who ran “baby charnel house” is charged with murder. BMJ 2011; 2011; 342:d489 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d489 (Published 25 January 2011) [FREE FULL TEXT]

10 thoughts on “Remembering Picasso, The House of Charnel, and A Medical Holocaust

  1. i am not really sure what to say. i am a staunch supporter of a woman’s right to choose for herself (regardless of the choices i would or wouldn’t make). it is my opinion that if affordable, safe, legal first trimester abortions were available to everyone, this kind of thing could be minimized, if not avoided. unfortunately there are always going to be bad guys preying on vulnerable populations. it is very tragic.


    1. Very well said, very apt indeed. What is the most shocking part in the whole saga is how this clinic has been running for close to three decades pulling the wool over the eyes of the authorities…


    2. There are cheap ways to get an abortion. You just have to look!!! I am NOT a supporter of abortion. However, I have been through things in my life and have made poor decisions and one of them was an abortion due to the baby not developing a skull… It was the hardest decision of my life and I regret it everyday. However, while looking for options my OB led me to a safe, cheap clinic. I payed $150. If someone takes responsibility to have sex the consequences can be a child, and should be thought of before having sexual relations with someone. If they choose abortion then that is there choice but you should be able to come up with $150!!! This man is sick!!!


  2. I read several article on this fiasco, but your post touched me in a way none of the others did. I posted it to my facebook page and digg. Thanks for a great article, calling the necessary attention to this travesty.


    1. Thanks. It is indeed a travesty of epic proportions. It is because of a few errant individuals that the whole profession ends up getting a bad rap from people.


  3. I have to agree with phrogmom…. saw the photo…and…I’m at a loss for words! I can’t begin to describe in words what I’m thinking or feeling at this moment….


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