A recent article posted on CBS News states "Anonymous essay exposes sexual abuse in the operating room". Of course, I was horrified by the idea that doctors would take any sexual liberties on patients that are under anesthesia, but just to let you know, this isn't really what it is about as the sexual abuse is more verbal than physical. Please don't get me wrong, what is happening is bad, and in an age where even words are considered sexual abuse, it can be construed as very bad.
The essay in question appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and the author talks about how he was facilitating a fourth-year elective course with eight medical students. He then asks two very interesting questions: "Do any of you have someone to forgive from your clinical experiences? Did anything ever happen that you need to forgive or perhaps still can't forgive?"
After a long silence, a student identified as David (a pseudonym) raised his hand and talked about a specific incident. It happened when David was assisting a vaginal hysterectomy. The attending physician was cleansing and scrubbing the patient's labia and inner thighs, and looked at David and said: "I bet she's enjoying this".
Yes, that is not appropriate, and David admitted that he had no idea how to react to that. The author of the anonymous essay then shared a story about a doctor who is treating a woman's vagina after delivering a baby. As he was treating her bleeding, the doctor joked "That's what I like, a nice, tight uterus" and then starts singing "La Cucaracha". What is interesting is the story ends with the author swaying to the beat and shuffling his feet.
As you can see, this essay isn't about doctors raping patients while under, but this type of verbal abuse would not be tolerated by the patients if they were awake. In another related story by CBS News, a patient was put under for a colonoscopy, and he had a chance to see a video of it and found the surgical team was mocking and insulting him while he was unconscious. This patient, who is identified only as "D.B.", sued the two doctors for medical malpractice and the jury ruled that the doctors and their practice must be fined for $500,000, with one of the doctors being dismissed.
Dr. J.P. Abenstein, the President of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), states that "it's a prime example of behaviors that any anesthesiologist should absolutely not engage in at any time." After all, patients that are under anesthesia are more vulnerable, and doctors have to be careful about how they interact. Some patients can even recall certain things said during surgery, even though they are under, but this does not excuse the behavior.
I'm certain that the issue in all three above examples of "sexual abuse" are doctors just letting off steam verbally. The issue is that it is difficult to police such behavior. In the case that was awarded $500,000, the patient was taping the doctors with his cellular phone, without them knowing it. If doctors were taped all the time, then they probably wouldn't say anything that they wouldn't say to the patient's face.