Sunday, February 2, 2003

Branding doctor

Idea for a fitting penalty


Perhaps this is not as bizarre as it first appears.

Dr. J. Michael Guiler, the Lexington obstetrician who branded a patient's uterus with the initials of his alma mater, the University of Kentucky, is furious with what he called "an avalanche of irresponsible reporting."

So I want to make sure I get this right.

Maybe there's a reasonable explanation. Something less contemptible than a doctor with no respect for his patient's dignity. Something less creepy than an operating room prank. After all, if Dr. Guiler had believed what he was doing was wrong, surely he wouldn't have videotaped the evidence and sent it to his patient. Malpractice insurance annual premiums for OB-GYNs in this region average in the $60,000-plus range, and they are painfully aware that they are a favorite target for lawsuits.

A media circus

At a press conference Tuesday, Dr. Guiler scolded reporters for creating "nothing less than a circus of unfair, unwarranted and inaccurate information." But, so far, he has not tried to sue us. Which I appreciate, believe me.

And I wish we could settle more of our differences in this country without the aid of a gavel, a judge, a jury and a boatload of money. Maybe it could have been resolved with a simple apology. But Dr. Guiler did not respond to a letter sent Nov. 26, complaining about the surgery last summer at Central Baptist Hospital.

Of course, the letter came from the attorney representing Stephanie Means. So the first saber had probably already rattled. Then the Fayette County woman filed the suit Jan. 22, seeking a trial and punitive damages.

"It was a mockery to my body," Means said. "This was an organ that created my two beautiful children, and I wanted it discarded with respect. It was used as a toy in the operating room without my consent."

Dr. Guiler says he chose the two-inch-high UK to mark the midline of the organ and provide an "unmistakable distinction between right and left."

Apparently a simple arrow wouldn't do.

"What he did was pretty tacky," says the Cincinnati Medical Academy's director Russell Dean. "There's some procedural and scientific justification for marking the surgical field. But certainly branding tissue with your favorite college team trivializes the procedure." That said, he added that he was guessing it would be hard to prove damages.

No one has suggested the patient suffered medical ill effects or that the surgery, a serious one, was not necessary. It's possible her doctor saved her life. And it is not illegal to be tacky or trivial. But there ought to be a way to encourage Dr. Guiler to find a more appropriate pennant.

Perhaps the court could suggest that a really personal and important body part belonging to the doctor - say something roughly equivalent to a woman's uterus - could be similarly marked. Just to indicate his genuine remorse, just to prove he is the bigger person, maybe Dr. Guiler would submit to a brand with a few more letters: Hoosiers or UCLA or Bearcats or the University of Louisville.

Or just Trivial.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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