Patient says he agreed to let surgeons take operating room selfies that sparked debate in China

Surgeons in a hospital in China's northwestern city of Xi'an taking a selfie. The patient who appeared in the controversial selfies taken by surgeons in a hospital in China's northwestern city of Xi'an said he was aware of what the doctors were doing
Surgeons in a hospital in China's northwestern city of Xi'an taking a selfie. The patient who appeared in the controversial selfies taken by surgeons in a hospital in China's northwestern city of Xi'an said he was aware of what the doctors were doing and had agreed to it before they took the photos, People's Daily reported on Wednesday. -- PHOTO: SINA WEIBO

BEIJING (China Daily/Asia News Network) - The patient who appeared in the controversial selfies taken by surgeons in a hospital in China's northwestern city of Xi'an said he was aware of what the doctors were doing and had agreed to it before they took the photos, People's Daily reported on Wednesday.

A series of surgeons' selfies with a patient on the operating table have been stirring heated debate on the Internet in the past few days. Although a lot of netizens expressed understanding and tolerance, the photos still led to three officials of the hospital being stripped of their posts and all medical workers in the photos were given administrative punishment.

The patient, Bai Wenhai, was sent to Xi'an Fengcheng Hospital on July 24 after his leg was severally injured. Surgeons operated on his leg from 11pm to 7am that same night.

A second surgery was performed on Aug 15, the day when the selfies were taken. The seven-hour operation was successful, saving Bai's leg from amputation.

"All the doctors were happy, as if they had won a battle," said Zheng Xiaoju, a surgeon who participated in the operation.

Since the operation room was going to be disbanded the next day, they took some group selfies there as "keepsakes". A doctor posted the photos on his WeChat Moments - a micro-blog platform of the WeChat instant messaging service - on Aug 16.

"I knew they were taking photos and I also agreed," Bai said. "They worked so hard to save my leg. I don't understand why they are being criticised."

It all started when a friend of one of the doctors posted the photos on Sina Weibo last Saturday, blaming them for escalating doctor-patient tensions, a long-standing problem in China.

The photos show the doctors smiling and posing in front of the patient lying on the operating table. It soon became the hottest topic on social media during the weekend, generating millions of comments.

Netizens were split on whether it's fine or not for the doctors to take the photos in the operating room. Some blamed them for lacking professional ethnics while the rest were more tolerant with it. A television programme based in Shaanxi, the province of which Xi'an is capital, which was the first media outlet to report the incident, was also criticised for not interviewing the involved people and aggravating the tension.

Xi'an health bureau on Monday announced it was going to punish the hospital and the doctors involved in the selfies. The deputy president of the hospital, the dean and the head nurse of its anesthesiology department were removed from their posts.

After the announcement, new wave of comments began appearing on the Internet, with some supporting the decision and the rest considering it too harsh.

"It's indeed inappropriate for the doctors to take off gauze masks in the operating room," said Li Jianrong, a deputy president of the hospital. "But the incident was magnified by media and the netizens."

Pressured by the reports and discussions on the Internet, the hospital decided to punish the doctors, he said.

According to a report by Beijing Youth Daily, the micro blogger who posted the photos on Sina Weibo was working in another private hospital in Xi'an. Vicious competition is speculated to be behind the incident.