BEIJING - Some occasions simply do not lend themselves to selfies.
Tell that to several doctors in China's north-western city of Xi'an, whose selfies with a patient undergoing surgery have gone viral online.
Besides stirring heated debate, the act has resulted in three officials of the hospital removed from their posts by the city's health bureau.
The three are deputy president of the hospital, the dean and the nurse head of its anesthesiology department. The executive president and all the medical workers in the photos have been given a demerit in their record, an administrative punishment in China.
According to the bureau, the photos were taken on Aug 15 in an operating room that was going to be disbanded and several medical staff members at Xi'an Fengcheng Hospital, a private hospital, took the photos as a keepsake.
The selfies were posted on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, on Saturday by a user who claimed to be a friend of one of the doctors. The photos show the doctors smiling and posing in front of an unconscious patient lying on the operating table.
"What are you medical workers doing during the operation? No wonder there are so many medical disputes with the patients," the user said in his post with the photos.
Though he deleted the post later, the photos were already circulating on social media and soon became one of the hot topics during the weekend.
As of 2 pm on Monday, the photos had been viewed 9.9 million times and had generated more than 12,000 comments.
Some Weibo users were furious at the doctors' behaviour, saying it was unprofessional.
"What's wrong is wrong. Whether the photos were taken before or after the surgery, the patient hadn't woken up and the doctors were already celebrating, ignoring the patient's privacy," commented a user by the name of Youma.
Another user, Lin'an chuyu, said: "Where are the professional ethics of these medical workers?"
But others, including many who claimed to be health workers themselves, expressed empathy.
Baiyishanmao, a commentor who said he was a surgeon, said after successfully finishing a challenging operation, the doctors would be happier than the patient and it was fine to take photos by the side of the operating table.
His comment got more than 10,000 likes during the weekend and many users expressed the same thoughts and supported the doctors.
Although he did point out that it was inappropriate that some medical workers were not wearing their gauze masks and that the patient was visible in the photos.
"It is understandable if they were celebrating the success of the operation. It's just like we take photos of the happy moments," said Weibo user Lu-Y.
Sekajiang said: "If you have never performed an operation, you will never feel the nervousness and delight of the doctors."
Still, some think it would be more acceptable if they waited until the patient was removed from the operating room.
During an operation, mobile phone signals are restricted and photos taken inside the room can only be used for internal communication with the patient's face hidden, Ma Kangxiao, a section chief of the Ninth Hospital of Xi'an, was quoted by Xi'an Evening News as saying.
Doctor-patient disputes have long been a social issue in China, with series of incidents emerging in recent years. Some disputes have even led to violent attacks on doctors.