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Crippled German patients sue cyber-surgeon

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Crippled German patients sue cyber-surgeon


MORE than 100 Germans are claiming their lives have been ruined by surgical equipment, known as Robodoc, designed to perform surgery far more accurately than a human.

A class action lawsuit has been launched by the alleged victims, who say the Robodoc has severed vital muscles and nerves while carrying out delicate bone surgery.

Many now say they are so crippled from the effects of the equipment, originally designed for the car industry, that they can no longer walk properly.

Investigations into Robodoc’s performance started at the beginning of the year after retired Frankfurt politician Erna-Maria Goetz was left with severe walking difficulties after a routine hip replacement operation.

The 67-year-old former councillor said: "I was persuaded by my surgeon, Professor Martin Boerner, to let the new robot carry out the operation. This was in 1997. Since then I haven’t been able to walk properly and am in constant pain."

Speaking from her wheelchair she pointed to her leg to show where Robodoc severed muscles. She said: "You can see where Robodoc sliced them in half, they are just useless now. I have to take a permanent drugs cocktail to keep away the pain."

At least 130 other alleged victims claim the robotic surgeon has left them partially disabled, and have now grouped together to fight for compensation and to get a ban placed on the equipment.

And one hospital, the University Clinic in Halle, in the east of Germany, is understood to have mothballed its Robodoc after finding 25% of the 39 operations it had performed ended with complications.

Lawyers Christian Reuchler and Dr Jochen Grund, who have taken on the case, said they were gathering evidence which would allow them to claim substantial damages.

Reuchler said: "This is the first time legal action has ever been taken against a robot doctor, and I am sure it will not be the last."

Grund added: "The evidence is overwhelming, and if the courts accept our case then they will have to accept that this robotic surgeon should never have been allowed to work on human patients."

But Professor Martin Boerner, from the Federal Accident and Emergency Clinic in Frankfurt, said: "We believe that these complications were not as a result of the work by the robot, but are down to other factors."

He said the 18 Robodocs in use throughout Germany had notched up about 12,000 hip operations between them.

The Robodoc’s manufacturers in California said new software had been provided that made the machinery better, but denied that the problems were caused by the machine itself, although they admitted it had not yet obtained a licence to perform operations in the US.

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Wow I’d heard of robotic surgeons but I had no idea they were already in use on such a scale. Personally I wouldn’t feel comfortable trusting a robot to perform surgery, actually I don’t trust a doctor to do it.

How did they expect a robot to adapt to problems during surgery? There must have been a human doctor supervising? :-k

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