Professional ethics and declining moral values in healthcare professionals

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 Professional ethics and declining
moral values in healthcare professionals

An investigative report highlights that a broken system
forgives sexually abusive doctors in United States

Professional ethics and moral values are touching very low levels in a section of the healthcare professionals across the world. It seems the time has come that professional ethics among physicians needs to be taken up seriously by all the stake holders including the professional societies themselves to discipline their members. An investigative report by Carrie Teegardin, Danny Robbins, Jeff Ernsthausen and Ariel Hart from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has highlighted the problem which describes disturbing acts of physician sexual abuse in United States of America.  It includes rapes by OB/GYNs, seductions by psychiatrists, fondling by anesthesiologists and ophthalmologists, and molestations by pediatricians and radiologists.

Victims were babies. Adolescents. Women in their 80s. Drug addicts and jail inmates. But it could be anyone. Some patients were sedated when they were sexually assaulted. Others didn’t realize at first what had happened because the doctor improperly touched them or photographed them while pretending to do a legitimate medical exam.

Some doctors were disciplined over a single episode of sexual misconduct. A few physicians — with hundreds of victims — are among the nation’s worst sex offenders. But the toll can’t be measured by numbers alone. For patients, the violations can be life-altering. The betrayal even pushed some to suicide.

There are scanty reports on the subject from other counties and in many countries, no one dares to take up and investigate such cases for various reasons. According to this report when cases do come to the public’s attention, they are often brushed off by the medical establishment as freakishly rare. While the vast majority of the United States 900,000 doctors do not sexually abuse patients, the AJC found the phenomenon is akin to the priest scandal: It doesn’t necessarily happen every day, but it happens far more often than anyone has acknowledged.

This report reveals certain specific episodes like in Kentucky, Dr. A was examining an infection on a patient’s abdomen when he entered forbidden territory. In California, a patient was leaving an appointment with a psychiatrist, when the doctor put his hand down her blouse, grabbed her breast. In Texas, Dr. PL fondled patients’ breasts. In each of these cases, described in public records, the doctors either acknowledged what they’d done or authorities, after investigating, believed the accusations. While the scale and scope of the physicians’ misdeeds varied tremendously, all were allowed to keep their white coats and continue seeing patients, as were hundreds of others like them across the nation.

How do doctors get away with exploiting patients for years?

Some victims say nothing. Intimidated, confused or embarrassed, they fear that no one will take their word over a doctor’s. Colleagues and nurses stay silent. Hospitals and health care organizations brush off accusations or quietly push doctors out, the investigation found, without reporting them to police or licensing agencies.

Society condemns sexual misconduct by most citizens and demands punishment. But when a physician is the perpetrator, the AJC found, the nation often looks the other way. Physician-dominated medical boards gave offenders second chances. Prosecutors dismissed or reduced charges, so doctors could keep practicing and stay off sex offender registries. Communities rallied around them.

According to Dr. Gene Abel, an Atlanta physician who is a nationally recognized expert in evaluating sexual misconduct by professionals “There just isn’t accurate data,”. The AJC launched its national investigation a year ago after reaching a surprising finding in Georgia: two-thirds of the doctors disciplined in the state for sexual misconduct were permitted to practice again.

The AJC obtained and analyzed more than 100,000 disciplinary documents and other records from across the country to find cases that may have involved sexual misconduct. Then reporters identified more than 3,100 doctors who were publicly disciplined since Jan. 1, 1999 after being accused of sexual infractions. More than 2,400 were sanctioned for violations that clearly involved patients. The rest were disciplined for sexual harassment of employees or for crimes such as child pornography, public indecency or sexual assault.

David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP, a support and advocacy organization for people sexually abused by priests, doctors and others, said many Americans view physicians with too much deference and automatic respect. “We are so reliant on them, we are so helpless and vulnerable and literally in pain often times when we go in there. We just have to trust them,” Clohessy said.

“So when they cross the boundary and their hands go into the wrong places, we are in shock, we are paralyzed, we’re confused, we’re scared. Even if complained their colleagues and supervisors will not address this immediately and effectively when we report it, said one of the victims.

 Sexual contact between a doctor and a patient, even if ostensibly consensual, is strictly forbidden. In ethical terms, it’s a never event. In a legal sense, it can be a crime. Physicians know it’s a line that can’t be crossed — it’s a prohibition as old as the Hippocratic Oath. Doctors spend years in costly medical schools and training programs. They’re smart. They’re admired. They’re needed. Like the giant banks that were once viewed as “too big to fail,” the nation’s doctors are often considered too precious to discard. Nationwide, the AJC found that of the 2,400 doctors publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct, half still have active medical licenses today.

When examining cases, the AJC found all sorts of surprising twists allowing doctors to keep working. Dr. PL was a well-respected neurologist when the first report of sexual misconduct came in.  “This tendency on the part of medical boards and medical officials to err on the side of a quiet suspension or a secret, out-of-court deal, that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said. Crime is a crime no matter who commits it. They need to be reported to and investigated by and prosecuted by the independent professionals in law enforcement.