Camran Nezhat - Controversies


This divide between the old way and the new led to a very intense philosophical debate within the medical community, causing antagonism between classical versus laparoscopic surgeons. Opponents of minimally invasive surgery accused laparoscopists of hiding their complication rates and advancing dangerous methods in order to seek fame and financial gain. Proponents accused classical surgeons of advocating outdated surgical procedures that were dangerous for patients, because they didn’t want to take the time and expense to learn the new techniques. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, this internecine fighting became especially intense, culminating in even more serious allegations made against laparoscopists, including Nezhat, who had come to represent one of the minimally invasive movement’s most visible leaders.

Two lawsuits in particular also triggered nationwide media coverage about Nezhat and minimally invasive surgery. Starting in approximately April 2000, a series of newspaper articles were published about Nezhat, and his two surgeon brothers, Farr and Ceana, outlining all of the allegations claimed in these lawsuits., In one case, filed by former patient, Debra Manov, online court records show that the patient withdrew her medical malpractice claim with prejudice on July 21, 1998, after not being able to find a medical expert to corroborate her claims. The judge ruled that the claims were baseless and/or frivolous and dismissed Manov’s entire case. The judge imposed a fine against Manov’s attorney for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

Another former patient, Mary (Stacey) Mullen, and her attorney, Jim Neal, claimed that Nezhat’s surgery caused her permanent damage to her bowel. Mullen and Neal (and later Mullen’s new attorney, Byrne) also accused Nezhat of battery and of being involved in RICO offenses (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations). The judge found these and several other claims to be baseless and frivolous. Jim Neal was disqualified from Mullen’s case by a Georgia judge in 1995 for unethical behavior… After a federal judge tossed out Neal’s attempt to use racketeering charges against the Nezhats, Neal was charged with contempt of court.,

The final outcome is not known for some portions of the Mullen lawsuit, since some of the court records are sealed. However, what court records online show is that Mullen withdrew her lawsuit on May 24, 2002. Later news reports came out describing the case as “resolved,” suggesting that an out-of-court settlement was reached.

For these two cases, the plaintiff attorney, Jim Neal, hired two Stanford-affiliated doctors, Dr. Thomas Margolis and Dr. Nicola Spirtos, as his medical experts. Spirtos and Margolis, two gynecologic surgeons who were partners in a Palo Alto clinic called Women’s Cancer Center (now closed), also accused Nezhat of various offenses, including of performing dangerous, experimental surgeries with the laparoscope. They suggested that Stanford failed to fully investigate Nezhat because his high profile status - he was referred to by the press as a celebrity surgeon - was reportedly translating to millions of dollars for their bottom line. In Nezhat’s defense, officials at Stanford said they investigated every claim and found them baseless, and described Spirtos and Margolis as “jealous competitors.” In this vein, Stanford officials and Nezhat supporters mentioned that Spirtos’ private clinical practice was one floor down from Nezhat's. Spirtos also lost an election at Stanford to Nezhat, for the position of deputy chief of the obstetrics and gynecology department.,

Proponents of the Nezhat’s said these surgeries were not experimental. Dr. Robert R. Franklin, a clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, said that In my opinion, the surgery performed on Mary (Stacey) Mullen was a necessary procedure and would not require any special consent form for experimental surgery.

The controversy continued when it was reported that Spirtos had sued Stanford in 1991 for defamation – claiming several things, including that he was discriminated against after becoming affiliated with the Women’s Cancer Center, and that Stanford retaliated against him for speaking out against Nezhat. The Santa Clara County Superior Court judge found this lawsuit to be without merit and dismissed it (case title Spirtos M.D. -Vs-Stanford University, case number 1-01-CV-796939 ). The case was deemed frivolous by the judge and the court awarded Stanford $12,000 in attorneys’ fees, payable by Spirtos and his attorney.,

On February 21, 2001, Nezhat’s research also fell under suspicion after a medical journal decided to retract two of his articles, both of which were co-authored by his brother, Dr. Farr Nezhat, and a colorectal surgeon, Dr. Earl Pennington. Data collected for these two articles were found to be flawed. Opponents claimed that these mistakes were intentional and constituted research fraud. Proponents said that "the slight discrepancies in patient data had no impact on the paper's conclusions.", It was reported that the journal’s decision to retract the articles was motivated by fear of lawsuits because it had received dozens of complaints by the attorney, Jim Neal, since approximately 1993.

In response to these growing concerns about Nezhat’s work, in November 2000 Stanford put together a blue-ribbon committee, with former California Supreme Court Justice Edward A. Panelli as the lead investigator. The other committee members were an expert on medical ethics from UC Davis, and a retired dean from Harvard University School of Medicine. On December 21, 2001, after even more newspaper articles came out about Nezhat, Phil Pizzo, who had been appointed dean of Stanford’s medical school in April 2001, announced that he had decided to suspend Nezhat and his two brothers until he could make more investigations into the matter.

In August 2002 this ad-hoc committee released its findings. It determined that all of the allegations were unsubstantiated and without basis, concluding that none of the three Nezhat brothers had engaged in any misconduct. The Nezhats were reinstated to Stanford in August 2002. Concerning the allegation of research fraud, the committee reported that it did find that errors were made in the two retracted articles, but in none of the other hundreds of publications by the Nezhats that were reviewed. The committee and Stanford cleared the Nezhats of any wrongdoing, determining that the errors were minor, inadvertent, and had no impact on the paper’s conclusions. Two state medical boards –from California and Georgia – launched their own investigation of Nezhat and also found him to be not guilty of any misconduct.,

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