Surgeon who 'initialled' patients' livers convicted

Surgeon Simon Bramhall gained fame in 2010 after transplanting a plane-crash victim's liver into a patient.
Surgeon Simon Bramhall gained fame in 2010 after transplanting a plane-crash victim's liver into a patient.

LONDON • A prominent British surgeon who etched his initials onto the livers of two patients, in a case that shocked many with its audacity, has been convicted of assault.

Simon Bramhall - who gained fame in 2010 after successfully transplanting a plane-crash victim's liver into a patient - pleaded guilty in England last Thursday to two counts of assault by beating.

The case has divided opinion in Britain. Many have expressed outrage, while others - including some former patients - have defended him.

According to British news reports, Bramhall, 53, admitted to using an argon beam - an electrified gas jet that liver surgeons typically employ to stanch bleeding or to mark an area of operation on an organ - to etch "SB", his initials, onto the livers.

Argon beam marks are usually not harmful and would normally disappear. But they were apparently discovered by a colleague when one of the patients underwent a follow-up operation.

Bramhall was subsequently suspended from his position as a consultant surgeon at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth hospital in 2013.

He resigned a year later, and said his act had been a mistake.

Lead prosecutor Tony Badenoch said that Bramhall's guilty pleas "represent an acceptance that that which he did was not just ethically wrong but criminally wrong".

The surgeon's actions, he said, were "a highly unusual and complex case" without precedent in criminal law.

"It was an intentional application of unlawful force to a patient whilst anaesthetised," he said. "His acts in marking the livers of those patients were deliberate and conscious acts."

Prosecutors said they had accepted a plea submitted by Bramhall denying a more serious charge - assault causing actual bodily harm.

According to reports, Bramhall was released on unconditional bail, with a sentencing hearing scheduled for January. Assault can be punished with a fine, community service or, in the most serious cases, a jail sentence of up to six months.

Ms Tracy Scriven, one of Bramhall's former patients, came to his defence.

"I wouldn't have cared if he did it to me," she told The Birmingham Mail in 2014, after Bramhall was suspended. "The man saved my life."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 17, 2017, with the headline 'Surgeon who 'initialled' patients' livers convicted'. Print Edition | Subscribe