Rivers' death may have involved anesthesia or surgeon error

Joan Rivers was a celebrity followed by many people in Maryland as well as throughout the country. One seemingly irrelevant detail has emerged from the shroud of mystery that cloaks the tragic events of her death. During the fatal diagnostic procedure, one of the doctors took a "selfie" of herself and the sedated celebrity. That speaks volumes about the lackadaisical approach of the doctors that day. Although it is not yet known whether her death resulted from surgeon error or an anesthesia error, the selfie could be an important signpost that may portend a future finding of professional negligence.

The idea of a selfie being taken under circumstances requiring a solemn focus on the medical procedure signals a lack of professionalism. The fact that at least one of the physicians has been removed from the staff of the medical center indicates that there are some dire facts waiting to be revealed. One of those facts is trickling to the surface: a purportedly unauthorized biopsy was taken during the scheduled endoscopy.

An endoscopy involves a visual probe that is inserted into the throat, the esophagus and/or into the stomach area to view their medical status. Prior to the procedure, the patient would have been required to sign a paper indicating that she gave informed consent to the procedure. The biopsy, however, is a totally different diagnostic process in which a surgeon takes a tissue sample from a designated area for laboratory analysis.

It's possible, but unlikely, that the patient consented to a biopsy to occur simultaneously with an endoscopy. Press reports in Maryland and nationwide have consistently reported the biopsy as being unauthorized. If there is no medical emergency, the patient must be told in advance the precise nature of the medical procedure, the risks involved and other relevant details, and she must give her consent. In addition to the surgeon error that may have caused her death, the lack of informed consent is a separate malpractice claim in itself.

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