Deborah and Phillip Seaton (AP)
BETHESDA, Md. (WUSA) -- Bethesda lawyer Michael Morgenstern has some advice for doctors and patients who wonder about the implications of a Kentucky lawsuit where a patient sued his doctor for removing part of his penis without first discussing the procedure with him.
"You've got to be proactive as a patient and, obviously, if I were trying to protect a doctor as my client, I would say you've got to be as up front as you can," Morgenstern told 9News Now.
Kentucky truck driver Phillip Seaton signed consent forms prior to what he believed to be circumcision surgery in 2007. The forms gave his doctor license to perform additional or different procedures if the doctor found them necessary.
As surgeon John Patterson began the operation, he discovered cancer cells that led him to amputate less than an inch of the penis.
Seaton learned of the procedure when he regained consciousness and talked to his doctor.
"He said 'I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is you've got cancer. The good news is I had to cut some of your penis off,"' Seaton testified.
"I'm mad because I didn't have no say in what happened to me. I was not told what had to be done. It was just done," Seaton said at the trial.
Seaton admitted to signing the consent forms but he does not read well, and his lawyers argued the doctor should have waited until he could discuss the procedure with Seaton.
Are consent agreements binding?
"It's very binding. It is a contract and, for years and years, there used to be no contract, no informed consent. The informed consent protects both the patient and the doctor. It's an understanding between the two of them what the surgery is about," Morgenstern said.
But Morgenstern also says a doctor has an obligation to explain.
"There were issues here that were not explained to the patient, and I probably would have taken the case, as well," Morgenstern said.
The doctor's lawyer argued that the procedure saved Seaton's life. The jury apparently agreed. It found for the doctor, awarding Seaton no damages, at all.