Surgeon Commits Battery On Patients

Jul 23 2008 Published by under Medicine and Law

Apparently, a surgeon has been committing battery on his patients by applying temporary tattoos to their bodies while they are unconscious during surgery. Given the way physicians are trained to believe they are gods who function on a practical and ethical plane that is above mere mortals, this kind of shit doesn't surprise me one bit.
From a legal standpoint, this is clearly battery, as these patients gave informed consent to a particular operation, and not to having temporary tattoos placed on their bodies while unconscious. It is battery in exactly the same way it would be battery if you put a temporary tattoo on the body of a stranger asleep at the beach.
For more discussion, see my and Lauren's posts at Feministe.

21 responses so far

  • Odyssey says:

    It is battery in exactly the same way it would be battery if you put a temporary tattoo on the body of a stranger asleep at the beach.
    It's worse than that. You are trusting the surgeon with your health and well-being.

  • neurolover says:

    Oh, I can't get het up over this one. It's a temporary tattoo. What if he'd been doing it to children? Then would we be all upset? I mean, now that someone has gotten upset, he should stop, and I guess, I think have thought this through further (and perhaps having discussed it with others) might have made him realize that some folks might have been upset ahead of time.
    But, I see this as evidence of nutty litigiousness and a lack of a sense of humor. The right thing to do here is for the patient to point out that she was disturbed, and that for the doctor to stop (unless his patients say, cool, I'd like a little surprise -- a temporary one-- after my surgery).
    The cases where folks carved their initials permanently are freaky, though, and a true violation. They mention the abdomen (which seems strange, since it's visible), but the one I'm aware of is the skull, after a neurosurgery (which is not visible), but is clearly still wrong.

  • PhysioProf says:

    lack of a sense of humor

    Yeah, those bitchez just have no sense of humor. After all, it's just a little battery. Are you fucking kidding me!?

  • neurolover says:

    physioprof, you will find no more sanctimonious feminist than me, and, no I'm not kidding you. I just don't see a temporary tattoo as battery. Yeah, he shouldn't have done it without consent, but I see this as a rap on the wrist & a promise to stop doing it without consent issue, not one of assault.
    Further, I think it actually diminishes assault (i.e. carving your initials in someone's skull) to make the two errors equivalent.
    (there are potentially extenuating circumstances -- for example, if only women, and if only tatoos "below the bikini line" . . .)

  • PhysioProf says:

    I just don't see a temporary tattoo as battery.

    It satisfies the legal definition of battery. Where do you get the cockamamie idea that calling attention to that fact is making it "equivalent" to carving initials in someone's skull, and thereby "diminishing" the impact of the latter?
    Do you get that this whole "calling attention to a lesser harm diminishes the impact of a greater harm" is a classical misogynist rhetorical tactic? "You bitchez should shut the fuck up about workplace 'harrassment', because in Saudi Arabia teh bitchez aren't even allowed to drive."

  • huh says:

    temporary tattoo? like rub-on tattoos?
    so friggin random.

  • Egg says:

    "What if he'd been doing it to children? Then would we be all upset? "
    Um, yes!?
    Assaulting a patient sexually while they are unconscious could theoretically leave no marks, temporary or otherwise, and yet it is clearly a violation. Marking patients without their knowledge is also a violation of trust that the patient places in their doctor. Additionally, the placement is totally inappropriate--I don't see how anyone could intend it to be a joke.

  • Texas Reader says:

    I recently had jury duty and its battery even if it DOESN'T leave a visible mark. One example given to us by the prosecutor was if someone ran up behind you and yanked your ponytail. Though this wouldn't leave a mark, it would be battery under the law.
    It seems a little goofy until you consider that changing the law would leave each of us vulnerable to being touched in some way by perfect strangers who then would not be "guilty" unless the touch left a mark. That's clearly not workable, thus the definition of battery does not include leaving a mark.

  • neurolover says:

    "Do you get that this whole "calling attention to a lesser harm diminishes the impact of a greater harm" is a classical misogynist rhetorical tactic? "You bitchez should shut the fuck up about workplace 'harrassment', because in Saudi Arabia teh bitchez aren't even allowed to drive.""
    yeah, yeah -- I have no problem with anyone calling attention to this, or objecting to it, or being deeply offended by it. And, I definitely think the surgeon should stop on being told of the offense. I just don't think it's battery: "The following elements must be proven to establish a case for battery: (1) an act by a defendant; (2) an intent to cause harmful or offensive contact on the part of the defendant; and (3) harmful or offensive contact to the plaintiff."
    I think your analogies to sexual harassment are relevant -- and the questions are ones of degree. When someone does something that offends you (#3) but didn't have intent to cause offense (#2) what do you do? You point it out to them, and they listen, and stop, because now, they know that their act caused harm. If they do it again, then they have intent, and the whole situation changes.
    There are also acts that are so obviously offensive that arguing that one didn't have an intent to cause harm is delusional. I don't think a rub on tattoo qualifies under this rule -- though carving initials in someone's skull does. (i.e. obviously harmful and offensive).
    Being precise in our measurement of offense does not mean that we're arguing that the person should be offended, or that nothing should be done.

  • PhysioProf says:

    Sorry, but you're still going wrong on the legal issues. The only intent required is to cause the offensive contact. If the contact is objectively offensive, then all that matters is that the actor intended to cause the contact, not whether the actor intended the contact to be offensive.
    "I was just kidding" does not obviate battery. Intentionally putting a temporary tattoo below the bikini line of an uncoscious woman is clearly offensive contact.

  • NM says:

    I know it's fashionable to bash surgeons as scalple jockey doof heads. But seriously...
    Bloody stupic thing to do though. Having done it however a timley, proper and sincere apology would have probably avoided the entrance of the lawyers.

  • Rose Marie says:

    Really?!?! I guess being in the temporary tattoo business, I may be a bit biased, but is this really a very big deal? I suppose that a smiley face on the hand would be less questionable, but a lawsuit? Obviously at this point he has to stop since someone was so upset, but what a sad state we are in when everything has to be about suing someone.
    Rose Marie
    Ink'd Temporary Tattoos

  • rpsms says:

    "I suppose that a smiley face on the hand would be less questionable, but a lawsuit?"
    The difference between a tatto on the hand and one below the bikini line is similar to the difference between a handshake and a handjob.
    Seems pretty obvious.

  • Sparky says:

    Apparently you struck a nerve with your MD friends. No offense but did that MarkH guy's dog die and his truck break down or what?

  • Sigmund says:

    As Sparky said above your comments are being pounced upon for reasons not entirely apparent to the non scienceblogger viewers. Not being completely party to the behind the scenes cliques within the seed stable I suspect knives have been sharpened and some old scores are being settled on this one.
    The very idea that suggesting that some of the medical profession may be encouraged to feel and act superior to the general population is a huge non-no is ludicrous. I wouldn't suggest that it is a constant feature of medical training or is the same everywhere but to deny it in entirety as some of the sciencebloggers are currently doing clearly smacks of disingenuous motives.
    On a personal note I have known several medical students who have told me that their training certainly contains elements of what can only be described as superiority training - no doubt to inculcate an air of authority when faced with patients.
    I doubt that I am going out on the slenderest limb to suggest that medical students themselves are not exactly renowned as the ideal of modesty and humility in either the university or hospital setting.
    This doesn't mean all MDs behave in this manner or were trained in this way but lets not act like its all sweetness and light.
    And to those sciencebloggers who have a problem with Physioprof why not come out in the open with their real accusations rather than all this cowardly sniping at a rather innocent post?

  • Martin says:

    "As Sparky said above your comments are being pounced upon for reasons not entirely apparent to the non scienceblogger viewers."
    Well, Sigmund, I'm not a scienceblogger, and it's pretty obvious why the comments are being pounced on. It's because:
    1) Suggesting that physicians have a god complex is offensive to many in the blogosphere who are physicians or associate with them.
    2)It's a dumb, sweeping assertion, backed up with zero evidence, making the same sort of "teh Doctors are evil" claims that the homeopaths/anti-vax/general idiots make. It's no more intelligent than saying "all firemen are shit-heads".
    3) Given that PP works in medicine, it seems a particularly idiotic thing to say about a bunch of his colleagues, and the students he teaches.
    So in short, it's offensive, it's unintelligent, and it's an attack on the reputation of the people he works with, both in real life and in the blogosphere. The only "non apparent" reasons here are the reasons behind PPs random, sweeping attack. Did one of them steal his girlfriend at med school or something?

  • Sigmund says:

    Which article have you been reading?
    This one above and the slightly longer one at Feministe deal with the way medics are trained - its not the generalized attack on the profession or medics in total that seems to be the one you are commenting on.
    Could you kindly link us to that one?
    Is mentioning the idea that some physicians have a God complex so startlingly shocking that some of the scienceblogging community have to sit down and fan themselves until the urge to faint goes away?
    Bloody hell, its lucky you don't work in a hospital setting. A lot of medics are indeed fine but come on, there's certainly a few demi-gods (in their own mind) out there too.
    (And no, they didn't steal my girl-friend either).

  • Erik says:

    @Sigmund: perhaps this one where he expands his indictment of medical students to surgeons in general.

  • Katharine says:

    I'm a pre-PhD student, and in my classes, I've met a mixture of pre-meds - those who think they're hot shit for being a pre-med, and those who are reasonable people. I used to be a pre-med myself, and I don't think I was ever full of myself.
    I have never met a surgeon who was a scalpel jockey. The experienced, highly-trained surgeon who did my fasciectomy (he's the best person in the country to go to for compartment syndrome) was nice and personable and efficient. My father's neurosurgeon, who has operated on the First Lady's spine and Bob Barker's brain, is, if I remember correctly, fairly nice. I'm probably lucky in that every surgeon I've ever known wasn't a scalpel jockey, but they're not all assholes.
    As a pre-PhD, man, I feel your pain. It can be a little bit of a pain in the ass that people aren't going to really use some of this information when they're physicians, depending on their specialties. But you've been tasked with teaching these people - you're a professor, which is what I'm going to be in ten to fifteen years depending on the length of my postdoc and graduate school, and Orac makes a point in that if you really don't enjoy teaching these people, why are you teaching them? If you want to maintain your position, you've got a responsibility to teach them, and you can help prevent assholeness by modeling non-assholeness for them. Maybe include a final message or two at the end of every set of physiology lectures after all the lectures you've taught them saying something about patient care.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Perhaps neurolover is not considering the frightening doubt growing in the patient's mind about what might have happened while she was unconscious other than a temporary tattoo? The explicit trust in her surgeon was absolutely destroyed. Consenting to being essentially naked and unconscious and placing your life in someone else's hands shouldn't be taken so lightly. I consider this an extreme breach of trust. The very attitude that would allow this breach to be viewed as minor I think is not seeing the big picture.

  • TomJoe says:

    I imagine a fair majority of women who undergo an operation while under general anesthesia, only to find a mark placed on her by the male doctor within an inch or so of her private area (when the operation was nowhere near that area), would have a sense of being violated.
    How this is lost by people is beyond me.

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