VOW Director is co-chair of task force into sex abuse by physicians
The relationship between a physician and a patient is one that is particularly close and physical. That’s why trust is paramount.
And that is why it’s so disturbing that doctors who betrayed that trust by sexually abusing patients have been allowed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to continue to practise — though the college had the right to revoke their licences.
Nor has the college made reporting doctors’ sexual assaults on patients to police part of its official mandate, as is the practice of similar bodies in other jurisdictions.
All this may be about to change with Health Minister Eric Hoskins’ announcement — following a series of Star stories on the issue — that the province is launching a task force “to review and modernize” laws that deal with sexual abuse of patients by health professionals.
His announcement is most welcome, as is the makeup of the task force. It will be co-chaired by the highly respected Marilou McPhedran, who directed two previous task forces on sex abuse by doctors, and former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry.
The review of the Regulated Health Professions Act will look specifically at one troubling aspect: the definition of sexual abuse. The law currently requires the mandatory revocation of a licence when a health professional is found guilty of certain acts, including sexual intercourse, oral-to-genital contact, genital-to-genital contact, genital-to-anal contact and masturbation.
That means a male doctor, Sastri Maharajh, who confessed to placing his mouth or resting his cheek on the breasts of as many as 13 female patients was allowed to keep practising — even though the college could have revoked his licence. Under the college’s ruling, Maharajh can now treat only male patients. He is one of 20 doctors who currently have gender-based restrictions on their licence, in some cases after sexually abusing a patient.
But critics have quite rightly questioned whether any doctor who sexually assaults a patient should be allowed to practise, period.
In Maharajh’s case the facts are particularly troubling: he admitted to losing all control and said he was not conscious of what he was doing. That does not give us confidence in his ability to treat patients of any gender.
The task force will also look at whether it should be mandatory for the college to report sexual abuse of patients by health professionals to police. This is also overdue. If a doctor assaulted a woman on the street, any passerby would have reported it to police. Why the college has not adopted this as a mandatory practice is beyond us.
The task force will report back this spring. For vulnerable patients, its recommendations can’t come soon enough.