"We are committed to helping victims of robot surgery receive the medical care and compensation they deserve … As both a lawyer and a licensed medical doctor, Dr. Francois Blaudeau has made it his mission to fight for the victims of traumatic complications as a result of botched robot surgery."
That's the opening salvo penned by the medical malpractice lawyers who run the slick fear factory of a website, BadRobotSurgery.com. According to the doctor-lawyers behind it—doctor-lawyers like Francois Blaudeau, MD, JD, FACHE, FCLM—“thousands of people have suffered severe and critical complications at the hands of surgical robots.” In fact, “robotic surgery has been linked to many serious injuries and severe complications, including death.”
The “surgical robot” in question is the Da Vinci Surgical System, a piece of advanced medical equipment doctors have used in thousands of hospitals since it was cleared by the FDA in 2000. The robotic device allows doctors to perform complex surgeries with a minimally invasive technique and enhanced precision, reducing wear and tear on human tissue. However, some have complained that its steep learning curve and inalterable proprietary software have limited its use. It’s also expensive. Each unit costs around $1.8 million.
Until recently, however, no one had claimed that the Da Vince Surgical System is an out-of-control killing machine.
That’s the less-than-subtle insinuation levied by the folks behind BadRobotSurgery.com. The website is sponsored in part by two Southern law firms, Riley Jackson, Attorneys at Law of Alabama and Becnel Law Firm, LLC, of Louisiana. With Blaudeau as the trustworthy doctor-lawyer figurehead and some ripe SEO—not to mention what appears to be the work of an online "reputation management firm" that seems to have scrubbed any non-official mention of the group from the top Google results—the unintentionally humorously titled website is set to go gangbusters.
There’s nothing new about enterprising malpractice attorneys that gravitate towards sensationalism or even fear-mongering in their pitches, of course. Ever ride the subway? Watch network television in the middle of the day? You’ve seen these guys at work.
But you’ve probably never seen them try to scare you with killer robots. Just read through that language again. It’s not surgery performed by the Da Vinci system, it’s “robot surgery.” People are “suffering” at “the hands of surgical robots.” The lawyers are going to great lengths to repeatedly drop the word “robot” in a negative connotation, conjuring up an image of some dangerous autonomous machine.
But the Da Vinci is far from that futuristic, nefarious conception of a robot, of course. It’s certainly robotic, but it is controlled at all times by the surgeon. The ad is clearly trying to distort that conception—it’s aimed at patients who were once fine with undergoing a robotics-assisted surgery, even glad to have had access to the most cutting-edge technology. It’s aimed at patients who are still in pain after the operation is over, who remain discomfited, dissatisfied, even angry—that’s how these things work.
Nobody told you that you were getting a “robot surgery,” the ad says, suddenly making a lot of sense—you didn’t sign up for this. And robot surgeries are clearly more dangerous than the normal kind, for unspecified reasons. They’re robots, after all. We can’t trust them.
The ads tap into a kind of techno-anxiety we’re certainly seeing less of, as older generations—those who are most likely to have had “robot surgeries”—are more comfortable sharing their lives with electronics and robotics than their forebears. But the word ‘robot’ is still loaded. ‘Robots’ steal our jobs, populate the dread armies of the future. ‘Technology’ makes our appliances smarter, helps pilot our vehicles, and . Those aren’t robots.
In the “robot lawsuit-filers’,” defense, there’s bound to be some risk when new medical technology is introduced, and patients of course deserve to understand precisely what those risks are before any procedure is carried out. But that still doesn’t justify robot-fear-mongering. Other law firms offer similar services with less inflammatory language, less exploitative melodrama. Yet we’re certainly going to be seeing more of this as we continues our march towards robotization—law firms, marketers, politicians, et al drawing lines, exceedingly arbitrary ones, between what does and does not constitute a robot, and which ones we should be afraid of. Our fear of robots—the autonomous, superior-to-humans variety—isn't going away. And neither, surely, will the impulse in some to exploit it for profit.