Medical ethics prohibit doctor-patient sexual liaison

The news about an entrapment scheme that targeted doctors in the capital and extorted big sums from them has raised the question of whether the medical practitioners were mere victims of a sex scam or whether they themselves brought it upon themselves by involving in behaviour considered unethical by professional standards.Medical ethics clearly prohibit any sexual contact between a doctor and a patient. In fact, the Hippocratic Oath that every physician is required to take at the beginning of his career mentions a willingness to refrain from “any act of seduction, male or female“. However, medical sources say , romantic relations are not all that rare in hospitals. As a doctor admitted toTOIon Tuesday , “Doctors dating patients is not uncommon at all. The trend, which has been reported widely in western countries, is picking up in India.“

Another doctor revealed, “The wife of my friend, a senior doctor, used to be his patient.They fell in love during the treatment period.“ As humans, doctors may be emotional beings susceptible to normal human longings, yet doctors are enjoined to ensure a very formal relationship with patients.Adultery involving a patient or “improper conduct“ with a patient is liable for disciplinary action under the Indian Medical Council Act, says Dr KK Aggarwal, secretary general, Indian Medical Association (IMA).“This should be followed in letter and spirit,“ he emphasises.

Not surprisingly , medical bodies take a dim view of any aberrations in the prescribed sterile relationship between doctors and patients. “The doctor who claims he has been honey-trapped by a young woman patient is at fault,“ states Dr Girish Tyagi, registrar of the Delhi Medical Council. “How could he have got into a relationship with a patient?“ The issue is not simply about the moral dimension of a sexual relationship.The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has noted that sexual or romantic interactions between doctors and patients are heavily loaded with the potential to obscure the physician’s objective judgement concerning the patient’s health and treatment. In fact, in consideration of an ailing person’s mental make-up, doctors, particularly those specialising in mental health, are advised to not initiate sexual and romantic relationships even with former patient

And consent between the parties is not a mitigating factor. The opinion abroad is that consent does not grant validity to a sexual relationship because it is assent given in vulnerability by the patient, to whom the doctor is a superior who controls their interactions in terms of what and how the treatment proceeds. So if at all a relation is to be maintained, it should be after the doctor-patient association has been terminated.

An editorial published in the Medical Journal of Australia says doctors who exploit their patients’ trust for their sexual gratification can create a host of problems for their charges, including “intense shame, guilt, depression, post-traumatic stress, suicidal thoughts, increased drug and alcohol use, break-up of relationships and loss of employment“. However, even a non-exploitative consensual physical relationship comes with the risk of serious repercussions for both the patient and the doctor.

Because the profession giv es doctors access to patients’ bodies, it is perhaps more difficult for them to avoid temptations.And this constitutes the real danger. Dr NK Aggarwal, a forensic medicine expert at Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital in east Delhi, writing in the `Delhi Psychiatry Journal’ in 2008, had clearly disclosed that it is common practice among young doctors to expose a patient to unnecessary intimate physical examination, and, he said, this constituted indirect assault chargeable under Section 354 of IPC.

While it’s easy to sympathise with the doctors who became victims of their comely patient, it is also evident that the entrappers, Sweta Panchal and her gang, knew well that doctors were not above putting aside the ethics of their profession for physical pursuits. So if anything, the Pitampura case proves doctors run the risk of being victimized if they lower the standards required of their practice.

Source: TOI 11 Nov’ 2015