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Woman awarded maximum compensation for unneeded hysterectomy

The loss of fertility due to a hysterectomy has been devastating to a 24-year-old West Virginia woman—more so because it may have been entirely unnecessary. As a result, the young woman will never have another child and is suffering the effects of the hormone changes brought on by early menopause. Even her marriage has been negatively affected.

The doctor did inform the patient, prior to the rather routine dilation and curettage she expected, that a hysterectomy was a possible complication. For her part, the patient made it clear that she wanted to have more children and to keep her uterus.

In a case like this, is not attempting any other, less-extreme methods of treatment medical malpractice?

According to the judge hearing the case, it is. In his decision, which awards the woman the maximum allowable compensation under West Virginia's laws, the judge listed off at least 9 different things that the doctor could have tried before reverting to a hysterectomy. The judge also noted that the patient was healthy and in no immediate danger—which otherwise might have justified the doctor's decision. The other procedures, per the judge's statements, would have each cost the doctor only a few seconds or minutes to attempt.

The doctor may have relied on the patient's signature showing that she had given her informed consent to the D&C and understood the potential of a hysterectomy to protect him from a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, it's likely that his own notes about the conversation he'd had with his patient, which mentioned his patient's desire to have more children and keep her uterus, actually turned the verdict against him.

Since he clearly understood that the patient's goal was to have more children, he should have considered a hysterectomy unauthorized until it was either an emergency or clear that there were no other workable options. It seems clear, from the judge's opinion, that a "reasonably prudent physician" of similar experience and skill who was aware of his patient's desires and goals should have at least tried a few other options before opting for the hysterectomy.

Anyone who believes that they were harmed through the overly-aggressive treatment approach of a physician should consider discussing the possibility of a medical malpractice case with an attorney.

Source: Charleston Gazette-Mail, "judge awards max to woman, 24, after hysterectomy," Kate White, Nov. 26, 2016

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