The Telegraph reports that a man who was supposed to be undergoing a minor urological procedure wound up receiving a vasectomy due to his surgeon’s error. The surgeon who made the blunder has been suspended, and it is yet unclear whether other surgeons will be able to undo the damage. The success rate for vasectomy reversals is only about 55 percent. It appears that one of the contributing factors may be the hospital’s or surgeon’s failure to follow the World Health Organization’s surgical safety checklist during the surgery. Details have not been released regarding the patient’s age or other characteristics, but it is wholly possible that this error prevented a young man from ever being able to have children.
This “accidental” vasectomy occurred in a National Health Service hospital in Great Britain. It comes on the tail of reports regarding a junior surgeon who removed a woman’s ovary rather than removing her appendix, an error which turned out to be fatal for both her and her unborn child. But American hospitals are far from immune to such horrific results.
Thousands of Surgical Errors in the United States
Events like this unwanted vasectomy are what are called “never events.” That means that they are mistakes that should never happen. Other examples are leaving instruments in a patient, or operating on the wrong side of the body. U.S. News and World Report reported in 2012 that at least 4,000 “never events” happen in the United States each year.
The U.S. News report was based on the work of researchers at Johns Hopkins. The researchers estimated that U.S. surgeons leave something like a sponge or a towel inside patients’ bodies thirty-nine times a week. Surgeons in the United States perform the wrong surgery twenty times a week, and operate on the wrong part of the body twenty times a week.
Unwanted Vasectomy Case is a Perfect Example of What is Wrong With Tort Reform
Fortunately in much of the United States, people who suffer because of these “never events” can recover in a medical malpractice claim. For example, a person who suffered an unwanted vasectomy could recover the costs of trying to undo the procedure. But clearly those costs are not the only costs such a man suffers. If the procedure turns out to be irreversible, he will never be able to have children. That is a non-economic loss. He’s not out any cash. But that loss, at least to most people, is a much greater loss than any amount of dollars and cents.
These non-economic losses are the vital and important losses that insurance companies are trying to get out of having to cover by pushing for what they call “tort reform.” This is done through setting extremely low caps on the amount a person can recover in non-economic damages. Some states, like Illinois, have fortunately found that such caps violate their state constitutions. But there is a movement right now in states like Florida to start amending constitutions to allow for such caps. Such amendments would prevent those who are victims of surgical errors that even the medical profession admits should never happen from every being fully compensated for their loss.
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