British surgeon Simon Bramhall has pled guilty of burning his initials into at least two of his patients’ livers. Bramhall pled guilty to two counts of assault by beating, avoiding a more serious charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He has been released on bail and his sentencing is scheduled for January.
According to court documents, he branded a female patient’s liver and a male transplant patient’s liver on 9 February and 21 August 2013. Bramhall used an argon beam coagulator to mark “SB” on the patients. The device is typically used to stop bleeding or mark areas of the liver that need to be operated on. The prosecutor said that the branding was done in the presence of Bramhall’s colleagues.
Another doctor found Bramhall’s handiwork while performing follow-up surgery on one of the transplant patients. Typically, the marks the device makes fade away quickly as the liver heals, but Bramhall was caught because the liver didn’t heal correctly. That doctor reported his findings to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, West Midlands, where Bramhall worked.
Bramhall was a celebrated liver, spleen and pancreas surgeon of 12 years. The hospital suspended Bramhall shortly before Christmas in 2013, and while he was briefly reinstated in April 2014, he decided to voluntarily resign a month later. At the time, he said he decided to step down because of stress-induced illness.
Prosecuting attorney Tony Badenoch said, “The pleas of guilty now entered represent an acceptance that that which he did was not just ethically wrong but criminally wrong.” Badenoch said that it will be up to others to decide whether his license to practice surgery will be compromised. Bramhall was issued a formal warning by the General Medical Council in February 2017 that said his conduct had not met the standards required of a doctor and that it “risks bringing the profession into disrepute.”
As strange as it may seem, this is not the first case of a doctor branding their patients. In 2010, a gynecologist laser-burned his initials on a uterus he removed. In 1999, a patient found that her doctor had carved his initials onto his patient’s abdomen following a C-section.