Healthcare News & Insights

Circumcision turns into amputation: What went wrong?

A patient who went into the OR for an adult circumcision and came out with a penis amputation has lost his suit against the doctor who performed the surgery. Phillip Seaton, 64, of Waddy, Kentucky, sought treatment with a local urologist for a burning sensation when he urinated and inflammation of the member. When medical treatments didn’t work, it was recommended he have a simple circumcision done.

The unkindest cut of all

But when Dr. John Patterson started the procedure, he discovered the tip had the appearance of rotten cauliflower,” which indicated a potentially life-threatening cancer. Patterson amputated about one inch of the penis. Tests later proved the tissue was cancerous.

Seaton eventually had the rest of the penis amputated by another doctor.

Seaton’s suit sought $16 million in damages for his suffering and his wife’s loss of “service and affection.”  His lawyer claimed that Seaton had consented only to the circumcision, that the amputation was not a critical, time-sensitive treatment and that Dr. Patterson should have ended the procedure and discussed other treatment options with Seaton.

Patterson’s lawyer however claimed that the consent form gave the doctor wide latitude to use his discretion in treating any unexpected complications that arose during, or as part of, the surgery. Seaton, who only went to school through the fifth grade, has limited reading ability. Patterson maintained the amputation was a necessary, potentially life-saving procedure.

The jury sided with Patterson, awarding nothing to Seaton for the amputation.

Although the doctor won in this case, clearly no one is happy about the outcome. It’s a stark reminder to health care professionals to make sure not only that patients have read and signed consent forms — but that they also actually understand what they mean.

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