At a cancer fundraising function in Sydney late last year, amongst the offerings at an auction was the chance to attend an operation by a prominent neurosurgeon.
Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney by day and singer in a band called the Original Faux Pas by night, happened to be performing at the event.
In an article just published in the BMJ, he ponders the ethical dilemmas involved (extract available here, pay for full version.)
The surgeon was doing a noble thing by trying to contribute to cancer research. But should his patients really be put in a position to have to surrender their privacy? In important respects the same concerns about undue influence also apply to RPA and other reality medical programmes. Patients should be told that the deal between the hospital and the RPA programme provides much needed dollars to the hospital, to enable it to continue to do important things.
Similar issues arise when journalists sit in on operations or other procedures (as I’ve done a number of times).
But this particular incident seems a step beyond such practices.
It will be interesting to watch the reactions to this revelation in such a prominent journal.
• If you would like a copy of the full article, please let me know via the comments section below.
Update, Jan 28
The snapshot below is of an online reader poll being conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald (captured three hours before it closed). One Croakey reader asked for it to be shared with this audience. Personally, I am not sure what conclusions can be drawn from such polls, and stress the small print under the poll that says:
I would like a copy of the article!
Thanks Simon for bringing this obscenity to our attention. I find it disgusting. I gather the surgeon involved is Charlie Teo – described in the West Australian today (and they did name him) as ‘acclaimed brain surgeon’. I think it is important he is named.
I am also amazed that no doctors have seemingly responded to your piece. Is this OK with them? Is it OK with the AMA? Respect for the medical profession matters. Would some doctors please respond critically and help to restore my faith in this once noble profession?
How much money it raises and what the cause might be is irrelelevant. I think the question “is it ethical” should have been asked of the ethics committee of the hospital where Charlie intends to carry out the procedure. If it has and they approved it – I say the proper process has taken place. If it hasn’t and wont see the inside of an ethics committee meeting …….well that is a concern for all health care consumers!
Just to let you know I have received an email from one doctor, who didn’t want to be identified, but who wrote: “…it would be lovely if you could point out that at least one
member of the medical profession is deeply disturbed by this, and that they wonder whether the surgical team provides a support person for the observer, or whether they assume that the anaesthetist and nurses will be more than happy to explain sensitive medical details, provide a shoulder to lean on and a glass of water if the observer gets woozy, and are completely happy to do their jobs with a layperson in the
Just to add to that: my own view is that this issue merits a response from beyond the medical profession and bioethicists. What about the fund-raising organisation that was involved; what about the hospital or hospitals where these operations take place?
And as Chapman’s BMJ article alludes to, what about journalists, documentary makers and others who ask doctors/surgeons and others to ask patients for access to their private and vulnerable moments? (as someone who has done this in the past and will no doubt do it again)
These broader conversations are useful ones to have, beyond this particular case.