In November of 2015, coordinated terrorist attacks struck six sites in Paris — including cafés, a football match, and a sold-out concert, killing more than 130 people and wounding more than 350. The hospital system, which isn’t accustomed to getting that volume of critical patients, sprung into action.
By the middle of the night, more than 35 surgical teams had operated on the most serious injuries. On one of those teams was headed by Emmanuel Masmejean, an orthopedic surgeon at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital. Now, more than six years after the attacks, his medical career is in jeopardy.
According to the French online newspaper Mediapart, Masmejean tried to sell the X-ray of one of his patients as an NFT. The listing, which is now deleted, was posted on OpenSea, a popular online marketplace for blockchain-linked digital art. Masmejean titled a post “Bataclan terrorist attack — November 13, 2015 — Paris, France” and in the description, he wrote that he’d operated on the women whose arm was shown, as well as five other female victims of the attack.
“This young patient, who lost her boyfriend in this attack, had an open fracture of the left forearm with a remaining bullet of [Kalashnikov] in soft tissues,” stated the listing. The NFT was priced at $2,776.
Masmejean told Mediapart that he did not seek the woman’s consent before listing the image and that he had “done a stupid thing.”
After the incident gained media attention, Masmejean reached out to the victim to explain himself. According to the victim’s lawyer, who made a statement with The Washington Post, the surgeon didn’t apologize but instead justified himself “without showing the slightest regret, nor the slightest empathy for her.”
In a tweet, Martin Hirsch, the managing director of the hospital network that employs Masmejean, said that the doctor’s actions warranted legal charges.
In terms of ethical and legal issues with crypto art, a doctor auctioning off patient information to make a quick buck is the tip of the iceberg. Since NFTs sprung into the mainstream in early 2021, crypto enthusiasts have poured money into the high-risk asset class, sometimes mistakenly believing that what they were purchasing (units of data stored on a digital ledger) conveyed meaningful copyright, which isn’t always the case.
An NFT of a Jean-Michel Basquiat drawing was recently withdrawn from OpenSea after the Basquiat estate made it clear that the seller did not own any rights to the work, and crypto group Spice DAO spent $3 million on Dune book, mistakenly believing it had acquired copyright to produce NFTs. Just because someone lists something on OpenSea— whether it’s a patient X-ray or a piece of neo-expressionist artwork— doesn’t mean they have the clearance to sell it.