Wednesday 12 November 2014

Doctors who sexually abuse their patients

The sexual abuse of patients by health care professionals is a clear abuse of power. Health care professionals provide services to people, often when they are ill or in need of assistance but to sexually abuse those patients who put their trust in such doctors is outrageous and deserving of punishment.             

If it's a priest, if it's a hockey coach, if it's a football coach, if it's a teacher, what you'll hear is that the standard that is being applied is zero tolerance of sexual abuse and dismissal.  But what is the standard for doctors?

In 1991, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario commissioned a task force to prepare an independent report on the sexual abuse of patients by health care professionals. The Task Force on Sexual Abuse of Patients made many powerful recommendations. These recommendations led to the government introducing a law (Bill 100) that made changes to the Regulated Health Professions Act. The goal of these amendments was to eradicate the abuse of patients by health care professionals. The amendments defined the sexual abuse of patients for the first time, implemented many of the Task Force`s recommendations, and established new procedures and standards for responding to and preventing sexual abuse of patients by health care professionals.

Until the original Task Force in 1991, patient sexual abuse by health care professionals was mostly ignored, denied, or misunderstood. For this reason, one of the most significant achievements of the original Task Force was that it made patient abuse public and, by making the abuse public, made it a little bit easier for patients to make their voices heard and pursue justice against their abusers.

Despite Bill 100 being passed in the legislature, most of the original Task Force's recommendations were never implemented. In 2000, Elizabeth Witmer, who was then the Minister of Health and Long Term Care, appointed the Special Task Force on the Sexual Abuse of Patients. This second task force was made up of the original task force members. In June 2001, the Special Task Force released its report, entitled, What about Accountability to the Patient?                 

The Special Task Force's report made 34 recommendations, including: enacting a patients' bill of rights to make the 21 regulatory colleges that are responsible for receiving, processing, and investigating sexual abuse complaints work more efficiently together; creating a "Public Access Centre" to help process patient inquiries and complaints; upholding a zero tolerance; philosophy of patient sexual abuse; requiring immediate reporting of abuse; and requiring each regulatory college to prepare an annual report.

The Special Task Force recommended that health care professionals continue to be self-regulated. In other words, a health care professional who is accused of sexually abusing a patient is judged by his or her peers when the regulatory body decides whether to, for example, revoke that professional's license to practice, suspend the practitioner’s licence or restrict the practitioner’s licence or a reprimand and fine.  Health care professionals are subject to these kinds of proceedings as well as criminal proceedings if they sexually abuse their patients.

Under Ontario’s Regulated Health Professions Act, sexual abuse is defined as sexual intercourse, or other forms of sexual relations between a doctor and patient, a doctor touching a patient in a sexual manner, behaviour or remarks of a sexual nature by a doctor toward a patient. Does this work?  I will let me readers answer that question.                             

According to a recent CBC news report, since 2007, over 125 doctors have been disciplined in Ontario alone for sexual comments or abuses against their patients. But how are such doctors disciplined by the College?  

A 28-year-old woman who was sexually abused by her doctor as a teenager told CBC News that she felt re-victimized by the system that dealt with her complaint. According to paperwork filed by the college discipline committee, the woman brought forward complaints related to two visits she made to her family doctor in 2002. During those visits, the doctor touched the woman’s breasts "in an inappropriate manner" and "without medical explanation or justification," according to the college. During the second visit, he reached inside her underwear and touched her genitals. "It was, like, full-out groping of my breasts and my pants coming off, for bronchitis that I came in there, and his fingers inside my underwear," the woman said, describing the second incident to CBC News.

That sex-molesting physician was given a suspension by the College, which was over in less than a year and then he returned to his medical practice in which he would be examining women again.

The College heard that on July 5, 2011, a woman, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, attended for an appointment with Dr. Sastri Maharajh. Her complaints that day of her visit included wheezing and ongoing pain in the left breast. Dr. Maharajh examined her ears, nose and throat first and found that her throat was red. He told her she likely had a viral infection. Maharajh next began examining her chest with his stethoscope. She was not wearing a gown, the panel determined. While being examined, the patient "felt something odd on her right nipple," the ruling states. She noticed that Maharajh's head was close to her chest and realized he had his lips on her nipple. This occurred three times she turned her head to look and saw Maharajh cupping her nipple with his mouth. She said, “What are you doing?”  He stood up and said “Nothing,” according to the ruling.  

Maharajh later admitted to the College that, between 2005 and 2011, he had engaged in similar conduct with 10-12 other patients. Now what discipline did the College give to this 54-year-old sex-abuser? Brace yourself for it. The disciplinary panel suspended Maharajh's medical licence for eight months and ruled that he can only treat male patients for an indeterminate period of time. He was also ordered to pay the College more than $112,000 for funding for any therapy and counselling provided to those female patients he sexually abused; many of whom were in their 40s and 50s, and the doctor must also continue getting therapy. Eventually, the College will let him examine women again. He received his Ontario medical licence back again in 1985.

The College couldn’t revoke his licence to practice medicine because only sexual intercourse, various forms of sexual contact with the genitals, the anus and the mouth, and masturbation of the doctor by the patient merit a mandatory revocation of a doctor’s licence. If a doctor performs another type of sexual act, the panel can also decide to either suspend or impose specified terms, conditions and limitations on their licence. It is beyond my understanding why a doctor placing his mouth over a woman’s breast isn’t included as grounds for revocation of a doctor’s licence. Experts are concerned about lax laws that allow less severe penalties for all but the most serious sexual transgressions.

Dr. Sastri Maharajh is back in business a year after admitting to sexually assaulting up to 13 female patients. He has to post a notice in his office where it can be seen by all his patients that he is only permitted to treat male patients.

If you were a man, would you want this sex-molester examining your privates or if you were the father of a small boy, would you want him examining your son’s privates? If you were a husband, would you want your wife to be eventually examined by this doctor?

A Greater Toronto Area doctor under investigation for sexual misconduct had his licence suspended on November 7, 2014 after allegedly continuing to treat female patients while prohibited from doing so. The Burlington family doctor, Sharif Tadros (age 55) had been accused of having sex with two of his patients in his office prior to his suspension, according to a College of Physicians and Surgeons notice of hearing document. Dr. Tadros is not allowed to practice medicine effective November 7 according to the regulatory body.  No doubt his licence will be permanently revoked.

Rosaria Cardoso, owner of Burlington’s Flawless Essence medical spa, told the Toronto Star that Dr. Tadros had treated female patients there with Botox injections after the restrictions were in place. She said no one informed her that the doctor couldn’t treat women. She asked, “How were we supposed to know what the restrictions are? Nobody contacted us saying Dr. Tadros is being investigated and was unable to treat women.” That is a very valid question. The College should have sent a notice to her so that she could monitor the doctor. She only learned that he was still treating women by searching in the Internet. 

Sexual abuse of patients is one of the most frequent reasons for discipline of doctors by the various provincial authorities that regulate doctors. Statistics about the actual number of disciplinary charges are difficult to find. Each province has its own College of Physicians and Surgeons that deals with disciplinary matters and there is no national registry of complaints or disciplinary decisions. This means there is no way a patient can know in advance if his or her doctor was disciplined as a sex abuser of his patients in the past.

There are 21 physicians in Ontario who have gender-based restrictions on treating patients. Dr. Tadros is one of only three doctors to have full restrictions banning them from treating female patients.

Ontario’s Health and Long-Term Care Minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins, recently ordered a review of the decades-old legislation that governs all 23 of the province’s regulatory colleges. He said, “I am sickened and disgusted by the actions of physicians who sexually assault, abuse or harass anyone. I have zero tolerance for any criminal sexual behaviour and will after a thorough review by experts and victims’ advocates make any and all necessary changes to ensure Ontarians are protected from such despicable behaviour.” unquote I hope the changes included unwanted contact of women’s breasts for sexual purposes. 

As I see it, there should be two changes made that will hopefully put an end to these sexual abusers. First, if the College is satisfied that the abusers committed the sex crimes, their licences should be revoked permanently. Second, the police should be informed by the Colleges who will then contact the victim with respect to laying the appropriate charges. Third, The College’s decisions and the names and pictures of the offending doctors should be made available to the public

If the Colleges continue to rap these sex molester’s wrists, the likelihood of the hands below the wrists and/or lips the will continue to wander about the patient’s bodies where they shouldn’t be. 

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