In the early 1900s, two women came into hospitals and left with trespasses against their bodies. In the Schloendorff v. Society of New York Hospital case, the patient came in complaining of a stomach ache and left with a hysterectomy. In the Mohr v. Williams case, a woman came in with a bad right ear and left with an operated-on left ear. While there are differences between these cases, there are more similarities; both are cases of malpractice and breach of consent, but both have specific particularities.
Both cases involve a breach of consent. In Schloendorff v. Society of New York Hospital, the patient went under anesthesia for an examination of her stomach, and woke up with her uterus removed; in Mohr v. Williams, the patient went under anesthetic for an operation on her right ear, but the surgeon operated on her left ear instead. Each of these physicians pulled a bait and switch; they got informed consent for one procedure, but then acted on a different procedure in a different part of the patient’s body. This is wrongful and unlawful as the patients did not, and could not, give informed consent about the new procedures. After going to court, all physicians involved said that they had done nothing wrong or beyond the consent given. Both women paid for the services provided. However, this seems to be where the similarities between the cases themselves ends.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines malpractice as “a dereliction of professional duty… by one (as a physician) rendering professional services which results in injury, loss, or damage.” Both physicians ignored the necessity of informed consent, and laid hands on their respective patients in areas that they were not granted access to. This is defined as battery, where even if intentions are not malicious, laying hands on someone without consent is still unlawful. Battery is damaging to the victim, so therefore bypassing informed consent can be construed as malpractice. This means that both the Schloendorff case and the Mohr case involve both malpractice and breach of consent.
While there are significant similarities between the cases, there are also some differences. The Schloendorff case involved blatant sexism; the patient was nervous and was diagnosed with hysteria, and the treatment at the time for hysteria was a hysterectomy; the physician removed the patient’s uterus without her permission, and then refused to give her painkillers because he said she was faking it. Dr. Bartlett clearly intended harm, whereas Dr. Williams claimed to act in the patient’s best interest, citing an emergency as his carte blanche to operate on Mohr. Mohr filed charges against her physician directly, whereas Schloendorff sued the hospital. This is what led to the difference in decisions; the hospital is not responsible for the actions of an independent contractor (Dr. Bartlett), but a hired physician is more directly responsible.
Both Anna Mohr and Mary Schloendorff were operated on while under anesthetic. Their doctors acted without regard for the consent of their patients, and committed battery by doing so. Despite the difference in court decisions, these cases are similar and are important in teaching the importance of informed consent.
Malpractice. (N.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/malpractice
Mary E. Schloendorff, Appellant, v. The Society of the New York Hospital, Respondent (1914). 211 N.Y. 125; 105 N.E. 92
Anna Mohr v. Cornelius Williams (1905). 95 Minn. 261; 104 N.W. 12; 1905 Minn. LEXIS 667