Yes, you did read the title correctly. In December, a surgeon in Birmingham was suspended after carving his initial’s on a patient’s liver during surgery. Surprisingly, this is not the first time surgeons have branded their patients. A few reports reveal that one wrote his initials on a patient’s abdomen after a C-section another wrote the initials of his alma mater on a woman’s uterus, and a third drilled his onto a bone flap after a brain operation.
The first question that needs to be asked is: What are the physical risks of surgeon branding? Extra drilling and carving can damage structural integrity, cause scarring, and increases the risk of infection. It can also lengthen the duration of the procedure which poses additional risks.
Besides the physical effects, it is important to consider branding within the terms of medical ethics, vanity, and the Hippocratic Oath. Contrary to the oath, surgeons who brand their initials into the patient are probably not acting in the patient’s best interests. These selfish motivations can lead to distrust and the degradation of the doctor-patient relationship. In addition, this action, which is a representation of the “God Complex” these surgeons likely possess, violates patients’ autonomy. None of these individuals consented to branding when they signed the forms for surgery.
Once established to be unethical, guidelines for appropriate punishment need to be set. The patient’s health, surgeon’s competency, and likelihood of reoffense should all be considered.
1. Is surgeon branding ethical?
2. Why would surgeons choose to tag patients with their initials?
3. If considered unethical, what should the punishment be for surgical tagging?
4. What is the branded patient now going through?
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