Sexual abuse and sexual harassment have been in the news recently, after the behaviour of many high-profile politicians, actors, executives, and other men have been made public. Such scandals have also rocked the healthcare world.  Earlier this month, a rheumatologist who previously practiced in Pickering and Mississauga had his license revoked by the College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSO) after he was found to have sexually abused several female patients.

What Happened?

Two patients complained about the physician after being subject to inappropriate behaviour and comments.

The CPSO’s discipline committee had found that the physician had sexually harassed a patient (Patient A) by asking personal and inappropriate questions about her sex life, including questions about what positions she and her husband preferred, and volunteering details about his own sex life, including frequency as well as methods and types of positions he liked to engage in. He also showed the patient pornography.

The physician was also found to have sexually abused another patient (Patient C) by rubbing his groin against her hip area while providing injections, and by “using sexually explicit and crude language” while asking her questions about her sex life, including asking her questions about her husband’s penis and about her genitals using graphic terminology.

Sexual Abuse and Harassment in Healthcare

We’ve previously blogged about sexual abuse in the healthcare context, including what is considered sexual abuse in the regulatory context and in what context a license can be revoked.

During earlier discipline proceedings in this matter, the CPSO acknowledged that this physician’s behaviour did not trigger mandatory revocation of his license. The College noted that in previous situations involving similar issues to those raised by the patients in question, the licenses of the physicians had typically been suspended not revoked. However, the CPSO emphasized that it does maintain a discretion to revoke a license, and could depart from previous decisions to impart a tougher penalty at any time, noting:

Revocation will convey to the public and the profession that a member who engages in such exploitation will not be tolerated…The practice of medicine is a privilege, not a right.

In this case, the patients were both vulnerable women with chronic conditions who had depended on the physician for treatment. Patient A had testified that she had been confused following the doctor’s remarks, and that, afterward, she “dreaded every encounter and appointment”. The patient that she had been concerned about coming forward with her allegations for fear that other doctors would think she was a “troublemaker” and would refuse to treat her.

The College ultimately argued in favour of revocation of the physician’s license and sought to have him post a letter of credit for $32,000 to cover therapy costs for the two patients and $25,000 in costs for the discipline hearings.

The Final Decision

In making the final decision to revoke the license, the discipline panel noted that Ontario courts have been critical of the CPSO’s independent discipline committee for failing to properly respond to society’s views of sexual abuse of patients through handing down lenient penalties:

The Divisional Court recently held . . . that the committee’s prior penalty ranges in cases of physician sexual abuse are out of step with present day society’s values and expectations…The committee recognizes that changing societal values speak to a need for more serious penalties in cases such as this one.

In addition to revoking the license, the committee also ordered the physician to pay the $32,000 in therapy costs and $25,000 in costs for the proceedings, stating:

The committee hopes that its order in this case will send a clear message to other victims of sexual abuse by physicians that reporting such behaviour is encouraged and will be taken seriously

At Wise Health Law, we have extensive experience navigating through the medical, regulatory, and legal worlds and have significant experience and expertise assisting physicians and other health professionals in the civil and regulatory contexts, including in appeals and judicial reviews. Contact us for forward-thinking and expert advice about health law and regulatory matters. For the convenience of our clients, we have offices in both Toronto and Oakville, Ontario, and are easily accessible. Contact us online, or at 416-915-4234 for a consultation.

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