There is always a degree of risk a patient undertakes when going under the knife for surgery. Fortunately due to modern medical advancements and the rigorous training required for physicians today, the threat of undesired surgical outcomes has minmized. Yet for Phillip Seaton, a 64-year old Kentucky truck driver, that small risk came to fruition in 2007 when he awoke from a basic circumcision to find a portion of his penis missing. The only caveat is that Dr. John Patterson, the urologist who performed the circumcision, says the surgery was remarkably successful.
According to the Insurance Journal, Patterson noticed an abnormality on the tip of Seaton’s penis in the course of the procedure that resembled penile cancer. Believing the condition to be life threatening if left untreated, Patterson amputated close to an inch of the affected area. Seaton promptly filed a $16 million lawsuit, alleging that Patterson should have consulted him before performing the amputation. A pathologist later confirmed the area was cancerous and Seaton had the remainder of his penis removed in a separate operation.
According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 25 percent of the 1,300 new cases of penile cancer reported every year in the U.S. are fatal.
After a three day trial, a 12 member jury unanimously sided Wednesday with Patterson’s assertion that the amputation was justified in that it potentially saved Seaton’s life, even if Seaton never signed off on the emergency removal. According to Patterson’s attorney, Seaton signed a consent form before the circumcision that “gave Patterson the latitude to deal with unforeseen circumstances during the surgery.” This consent, and the fact that the abnormality was indeed cancerous was apparently enough evidence to exonerate Patterson of any wrongdoing.
Seaton’s attorney, Kevin George, is appealing the decision on the basis that “a doctor is allowed to change a consent for surgery only if there is a danger of imminent death.”
“If this case stands, you go into a surgery … whatever you consent for you may end up having something done to you even when there is no emergency,” George told reporters after the verdict was announced.
Should doctors have the authority to make such life-altering decisions on their patients behalf without direct consent? Was there a risk of “imminent death” in this case?
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