Richard Watkins/ AJC

5 doctors who abused patients while sedated

Cases were part of AJC’s nationwide investigation

A prominent Manhattan doctor is arrested, charged with giving a patient a powerful anesthetic in the emergency room, then masturbating on her.

The evidence: DNA found on her face. His defense: He had masturbated in a lounge before treating her and some semen was on his hand.

It was a story made for the tabloids, one of those incidents the medical establishment often brushes off as freakishly rare when they come to the public’s attention.

But in a yearlong national investigation, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found scores of cases across the country of doctors accused of sexually violating patients who were at their most helpless — under anesthesia or sedated. The doctors’ downfall: The patients weren’t completely anesthetized, or DNA was found, or a witness spoke up and was believed.

Dr. Peter Lieh-Chuan Chi

Dr. Frederick Field

Years before Dr. Frederick Field was convicted of sexual abuse and rape for assaulting some dozen patients under anesthesia, another Oregon physician, David Oliver Burleson, was sentenced to five years in prison after being charged with sexually assaulting multiple patients under anesthesia. A California plastic surgeon, Peter Lieh-Chuan Chi, was accused of sexually assaulting dozens of female patients, from ages 16 to 57, many of them while they were unconscious during post-operative exams. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to charges involving 36 patients and later was sentenced to six years in prison.

RYON HORNE / AJC

Erin Vance was one of at least 12 women sexually assaulted by anesthesiologist Dr. Frederick Field as they lay incapacitated at a hospital in The Dalles, Ore.
Video: Hear in Erin’s own words the impact on being a victim of sexual abuse from a doctor

Dr. Aniruddha Chitale

Dr. Dennis Michael Zikowski

In Michigan, anesthesiologist Dennis Michael Zikowski was accused of assaulting three female patients at a hospital when they were sedated in preparation for surgery. He is now a registered sex offender. In Texas, Dr. Aniruddha Chitale negotiated a plea bargain to serve six months in jail after he admitted sexually assaulting two sedated patients and misdemeanor crimes of public lewdness and indecent exposure with two other women. He was found out when a woman awakening from anesthesia after a colonoscopy saw his penis and felt someone wipe her mouth and cheek. She went to police, and a swab of her mouth and throat revealed sperm.

Ryon Horne/AJC

Other doctors accused of violating unconscious patients were allowed to keep on practicing.

In Kentucky, medical authorities reinstated the license of a doctor who admitted to touching the breasts of anesthetized patients.

In California, medical authorities decided they had no clear and convincing evidence when a patient reported that a doctor tried to engage in oral sex with her as he was administering anesthesia. Years later, the state revoked his license after when he was found to have sexually violated another patient. But his license was reinstated after he convinced the medical board of his remorse and rehabilitation.

Alabama reinstated the license of a doctor accused of sexual misconduct with several patients, including placing his hand in a patient’s vagina as anesthesia began.

Those doctors were among more than 2,400 the AJC found were publicly sanctioned by medical authorities after being accused of sexually abusing patients. Is that freakishly rare? No one knows the extent of the problem. The AJC found that many cases of physician sexual misconduct are concealed.