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GMC reprimands consultant for terminating pregnancy without consent

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 08 June 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1354
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. London

    A consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist was severely reprimanded by the General Medical Council last week for terminating a pregnancy without his patient's consent. Reginald Dixon, 65, elected to continue a hysterectomy after he discovered a previously unsuspected 11 week old fetus.

    Mr Dixon performed the operation in 1993 and was acquitted of illegally procuring a miscarriage at Nottingham Crown Court in 1995. He retired last October. The GMC was not made aware of the case until a private complaint was lodged in 1998.

    Mr Dixon was working at King's Mill Hospital in Nottinghamshire when he performed the hysterectomy on Mrs Barbara Whiten, a college lecturer, who was then 35 years old and suffering from abdominal pain. Mrs Whiten, who had previously been told she was infertile, was unaware of her pregnancy until Mr Dixon told her after the operation. She told the GMC's professional conduct committee that she had still wanted children and had been forever denied that chance by his actions.

    “That is something for which I can never forgive Mr Dixon,” she said, adding that the experience had strained her marriage, which was heading for divorce. “The actions of Mr Dixon have blighted my life and I've found it almost impossible to put it behind me.”

    Mr Dixon acknowledged that he had made the wrong decision but said he had been acting in what he thought were the patient's best interests. It was natural to assume, he argued, that a woman who wanted children would not have consented to a hysterectomy. He submitted a statement claiming that staff at the King's Mill Hospital were overworked and that “the number of operations per consultant has been amongst the highest in the country.”

    The consent form signed by Mrs Whiten, which had been prepared by a junior doctor, was deemed insufficiently clear to amount to informed consent. Committee chairman Dr Chitra Bharucha acknowledged that “limited resources, pressures of time, and omissions on the part of junior doctors” had contributed to the error. Noting that it was “an isolated incident in a previously unblemished career,” and that he had already undergone criminal prosecution, she said the committee felt a severe reprimand was sufficient punishment.

    Dr Chitra added: “The committee expects that stringent measures will be taken in all hospitals to ensure that consent of patients is fully informed and based on accurate information.” Mrs Whiten said the judgement was “very fair.” Mr Dixon declined to comment.

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