Women should not have to defend decisions they make about their own bodies

New allegations against Dr. John Siebert disheartening, but unfortunately, not surprising

· Feb 11, 2019 Tweet

Alex Arriaga/The Badger Herald

Medical malpractice is no joke. The idea that world-renowned surgeons, doctors and nurses might make a mistake while providing medical care is shocking. But it is all too common — the reality is, even experts can make mistakes, intentionally or not, often with serious physical and mental consequences for the patient.

“Medical malpractice” immediately draws to mind overblown, oversaturated late-night commercials, detailing the horrific consequences of faulty vaginal mesh, hip replacements or exposure to asbestos. Online, social media is proliferated with bizarre cases of negligence, from amputating the wrong leg, to leaving surgical sponges inside a patient for years.

After writing an article on Dr. John Siebert last year, I was dismayed to see his name emerge yet again next to the words “misconduct” and “negligence.” About this time a year ago, Siebert faced fiery criticism regarding an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient, which required him to have a chaperone with female patients. The Wisconsin medical board reached the decision that Siebert’s actions were “a minor or technical violation” which were “not seriously harmful to the public.”

First, do no harm. Disregarding the morally grey area of allowing Siebert to continue practicing in Wisconsin, several Facebook commenters let me know, in plain, if not condescending language, just how much good Siebert was doing despite his impropriety. A sexual relationship with a patient, they claimed, was not solely malicious, nor was it a valid reason to dismiss Siebert or notify future patients of his past misconduct.

UPDATED: UW surgeon’s history of sexual misconduct reprehensible, but accepting responsibility crucial first stepOn March 7, The Badger Herald published an article exploring the past of University of Wisconsin plastic surgeon John Siebert. Read…

But these actions don’t emerge in a vacuum. They are often not isolated. If there is anything I have taken away from the #MeToo movement, it is that misconduct is not a singular event. It is a pattern, spanning power structures, gender, and years of silence. Siebert is no exception, it seems. Here we are, yet again.

Feb. 1, a female patient filed a lawsuit against Siebert, alleging that he “failed to use the degree of care, skill and judgment that reasonable physicians would use in the care and treatment of a patient” when performing a tummy tuck and breast implant procedure. According to the complaint, Siebert disregarded the patient’s requests, and inserted implants larger than those requested, before making inappropriate comments and stroking the patient’s face and legs.

I was disheartened, but not shocked, to find the comment sections of articles covering the lawsuit full of disbelieving and misogynistic remarks. What did shock me, however, were the numerous comments mocking the woman for receiving cosmetic surgery, with several stating the patient should be “happy” with the larger breasts. Others implied she made up the claim either because her own sexual advances were not returned, or because she wanted financial compensation after discovering the past allegations against Siebert.

UW Health disregards student safety through employment of John SiebertIn the Harvey Weinstein era, it’s not an unfamiliar headline: “UW plastic surgeon had medical license suspended in New York Read…

As a woman, reading through these comments disgusted me on several different levels. It is one thing to doubt allegations, and avoid making a judgment until a thorough investigation has been completed. It is wholly another thing to dismiss accusations of misconduct and malpractice simply based on the type of surgery a patient receives.

Thousands of women receive breast augmentation or reduction surgeries every year. It is a choice they have made for themselves and their bodies. And yet, we still tie sexual impropriety and vanity inextricably to the women who receive such surgeries. We look down upon any woman who has the audacity to make a choice for her own body. God forbid.

The idea that a doctor can dismiss the request and consent of a patient, and disregard the autonomy of that person, is unthinkable. Imagine waking up from a surgery to remove a tooth, only to find that the surgeon pulled all of your molars, too, because it “looked better,” even though you’d agreed before the surgery that you only wanted the one tooth removed.

UW plastic surgeon had medical license suspended in New York following inappropriate sexual encounterBefore coming to the University of Wisconsin, John Siebert, a plastic surgeon and endowed chair, had an inappropriate sexual relationship Read…

In the case with Seibert, a woman was overruled, allegedly, because of a man’s desire to change her body against her will. We should be outraged — not laughing. Certainly not pulling up photos of the patient, and judging “for ourselves” if she should “really be mad.”

A person’s autonomy is not worth less simply because they are receiving cosmetic surgery. A woman does not deserve, nor should have to bear sexual comments and inappropriate touches merely because she has breasts and is not ashamed of them.

Our society idolizes large breasts, while simultaneously shaming those who receive augmentation surgery. This mentality leads to the inexplicable perception that this case is entirely the patient’s fault — and not Siebert’s.

The idea that someone “should be happy” with surgery they did not agree to would be unacceptable in any other context. This case must not be an exception.

Julia Brunson ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history.


This article was published Feb 11, 2019 at 6:57 pm and last updated Feb 11, 2019 at 6:57 pm


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