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While the meaning of the word “routine” is commonly known, the phrase “routine surgery” is a misnomer and frequently misunderstood by the general public.  As any medical malpractice attorney would agree, there is no such thing as a routine surgery.

Every surgery involves risks to a patient.  Some may be as benign as the small cross-shaped scarring that results from the insertion of instruments during an arthroscopic surgery.  However, others can present a more dangerous situation for a patient, including the rupture or puncture of nearby organs or arteries, or even death due to anesthesia.

The concept of a “routine surgery” was brought to mind by a recent Today article describing an “unintended vasectomy” that occurred when a 4-year old patient underwent a hernia repair surgery.  The article describes this procedure as a “routine surgery”, but yet also quotes an expert in that field of medicine indicating that “pediatric hernia repairs are the most common cause of injury to the vas deferens[,]” which is the tube through which sperm travels to the urethra.  According to the expert, these injuries occur so commonly because the vas deferens is tiny in a child.

A lawsuit reportedly filed about these events claims the surgical team failed to carefully distinguish the hernia sac from the vas deferens, and failed to properly position and separate the two before removal.  There are emotional and psychological injuries alleged in addition to the physical injuries, and concerns about any impact on fertility which won’t be ascertainable until the child reaches puberty.

Here in California, a surgeon is generally required to advise a patient of the benefits and risks of a proposed procedure that any reasonable person would consider important in deciding to proceed with the treatment.  A failure to so inform a patient may be considered medical malpractice.

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