Surgeons may someday be required to let patients know they are sleep-deprived before an operation. An editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine proposes that it is unethical for doctors to operate without adequate rest unless the patient has given his or her explicit permission. That’s because sleep deprivation has effects similar to excess alcohol consumption. If you wouldn’t want your surgeon to operate drunk, you probably would prefer he not stay up all night before your operation. People skimping on sleep are rarely good judges of how much their performance may be impaired. Disclosing sleep deprivation would be a dramatic change and would probably be unpopular, but it should improve patient safety.
[New England Journal of Medicine, Dec. 29, 2010]