Unethical Plaintiffs in the Case Of the Shortened Penis

Ronnie had it easy in "King's Row"---he just woke up missing his legs.

A Kentucky truck-driver, 64-year-old Phillip Seaton, went into surgery to remove his inflamed foreskin in what began as a simple circumcision.  Dr. John Patterson, the surgeon, began the procedure and saw that Seaton’s penis was riddled with cancer. He amputated more than just the foreskin, and Seaton awoke one full inch shorter than when he arrived. And Extenz wasn’t going to help.

He and his short-changed wife sued Patterson for malpractice, arguing that he had been mutilated and unmanned without his consent, and that Patterson should have performed only the circumcision, sewn him up, and consulted with the truck-driver and his wife regarding their options.

Clever law suit. We can’t blame the lawyer who took it on: a sawed-off penis is a good bet to get jury sympathy. All that is required for a lawsuit to be ethical from a lawyer’s perspective is for there to be a good-faith and reasonable belief that the suit could prevail under the law. This one could have. Generally it’s a good idea, and only polite, to ask before cutting off a piece of someone’s penis. I know it’s the rule in our house.

I can blame the Seatons, however, who chose to sue a doctor for following proper medical ethics and doing what was necessary to ensure Seaton’s survival. They can hardly argue that Dr. Patterson’s judgment was flawed—the rest of Seaton’s cancerous organ had to be amputated later. The couple, which should have been grateful, chose greed over fairness and responsibility.

Experts testified that Patterson’s quick action probably saved Seaton’s life, but instead of  rewarding the alert surgeon with heartfelt thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Seaton sought a big payday in damages. And if the doctor hadn’t amputated part of the cancerous penis and it had to be taken completely off later? They would have sued him for NOT amputating, arguing that taking one inch sooner could have saved the whole enchilada later! If Phillip Seaton had died of rapidly-spreading penis cancer after Patterson declined to make the unkindest cut at the earliest possible time, then his widow would have sued for more than 16 million. This couple, in short (sorry Phillip!) was going to sue no matter what. That missing penis was their ticket to Easy Street. A disgusting ticket, admittedly, but a ticket nonetheless.

That’s not all. The Seaton’s lawsuit, if successful, would have resulted in the deaths of many future patients, whose surgeons would be then afraid to do what was necessary for their survival when cancer was discovered mid-operation, lest the doctors get sued by other horrified and greedy individuals waking up without kidneys, legs or other cancerous parts of their anatomy. Fortunately for you, me and the medical profession, the Kentucky jury rejected the Seaton’s suit for what it was: greed, bad policy, dangerous precedent, and outrageous ingratitude.

8 thoughts on “Unethical Plaintiffs in the Case Of the Shortened Penis

  1. This makes me sad; the “I’m gonna sue the doctor for saving my life” trope is supposed to be a convention of television dramas, not real life.

    He opened a guy up. He saw the cancer. Instead of closing the patient up and risking another surgery, he dealt with the problem immediately in the only way available. Honestly, if I were to undergo surgery for some reason and the doctor discovered a malignant tumor that would have to be removed no matter what, I’d be extraordinarily pissed to wake up and find that I’d have to be sliced open again.

  2. Here’s where we can start making inroads to reduce medical costs. Let it be made clear that any removal of cancerous tumors that might be related to or the cause of a current active surgery is not malpractice.

    It may be a drop in a bucket, but if that’s how we can strip away frivolous lawsuits and lower malpractice insurance then I think we owe it to ourselves to do it.

  3. What’s really scary is that the glans apparently looked like “rotten cauliflower” – and they were still having sex up until then! Do some people never look at their own bodies, or at their lover’s? Disgusting!

  4. If the surgeon can recognize cancer by looking at it, pre-cut (as reported in original article), then maybe a decent policy is to ensure a consulting surgeon eyeballs any exterior flesh BEFORE the anesthesia launches. While this is not feasible in all cases surgeries where cancer might be found, it certainly seems reasonable with dermatological complaints.

    As for the argument that his penis had to be amputated en toto later, are we really to look only at end-results for ethical behavior? Had the result of the second surgery been a heart-attack due to anesthesia, could the case against the initial surgeon simply have been dismissd, without further inquiry into the surgeon’s propriety, because of the ultimate result?

    “All’s well that ends well” is a safety parachute, or a bullet dodged, not an ethical roadmap for behavior, nor behavior condemnation.

    This story serves as a cautionary tale. Before going under, meet the sawbones, make him look at the flesh in question, and look you in the eye to say “I think this needs to come off.” It is sad that this might have been avoided by a simple face to face meeting.

    • The point of the subsequent amputation is 1) no damages. If it had to come off anyway, it is absurd to sue the doctor who made the first cut; and 2) it proves that the doctor didn’t cut into a healthy penis, which would have been per se malpractice.It’s not consequentialism; its evidence. Cancer spreads, and you don’t take chances with someone’s life.

      What would have been avoided with a meeting? The lawsuit? the lawsuit shouldn’t have happened anyway. The amputation? No, that WOULD have happened anyway. I agree that a meeting and pre-surgical examination is prudent, but a circumcision is usually minor out-patient surgery, though very unpleasant for an adult (believe me, I know..).There’s no way the doctor can be blamed for anything at all, other than taking care of the patient,

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