A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives on Friday would make it illegal for doctors to have sex with their patients. Doctors found guilty would also lose their license to practice medicine in the state.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, comes on the heels of a national survey in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year ranked Mississippi last among 50 states and the District of Columbia in protecting patients from doctor sexual assault.
“I think the Atlanta article just shook a bunch of people up across the United States, us included,” said Dr. Charles Miles, president of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure.
In the survey, Mississippi scored a total of 37 points out of 100 and near the bottom of almost every almost every category of patient-protection laws the study measured. If this legislation passes, Mississippi would be one of just a few states that criminalize any sexual contact between doctors and their patients.
Smith said he began working on an early version of the bill in September, before he knew how Mississippi fared in the rankings. That version would have enforced existing prohibitions against doctors who commit sexual misconduct.
Then, around the time the study was released, Smith said that Dr. John Hall, the new executive director of the Board of Medical Licensure, approached him about adding a criminal charge for sexual misconduct.
“As it was, this is the only profession in the state that did not have a person of trust guilty of a felony if sexual misconduct took place during a session or an appointment,” Smith said.
But Miles cautions that when it comes to criminal activity, there is a difference between doctors committing sexual assault, which is already illegal, and doctors having consensual sex with patients.
“Having sex with a patient is wrong. You shouldn’t do that, and I never have, and I would expect nobody else to,” Miles said. “I just don’t believe a doctor should have sex with somebody he’s treating as a patient. Now should it be a felony? I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not a legislator. That’ll be up to them, so if they do that we’ll put the rules and regulations in place.”
The text of the bill is specific — and explicit. It lays out in detail the sexual misconduct that it would outlaw, running the gamut from consensual kissing to rape. And while the bill is nominally aimed at physicians, it also applies to other medical practitioners such as physicians assistants, acupuncturists and radiologist assistants.
The bill also marks a new course for the Board of Medical Licensure under the direction of Hall, who replaced Dr. Vann Craig last summer as executive director of the board.
Previously, Craig had told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that sexual assault was not a deal breaker in Mississippi.
“Let me say that it takes a lot of money to educate a physician. If they can be safely monitored and rehabilitated, I don’t see why they can’t come back from drugs, alcohol or sexual misconduct,” Craig said.
But Miles questioned whether a doctor who has committed sexual assault can actually be monitored at all.
“Now say your crime is having sex with a patient. It’s not like drugs, where you take a weekly urine test. If someone says they’re not having sex with someone, how do you know that? It’s awfully hard to monitor that,” Miles said.
As a result, Miles said that while he does have reservations about criminalizing some forms of consensual sex, he is happy the Legislature is taking up the issue.
“It’s become a very big issue that we’re dealing with, and we’ll continue to deal with,” Miles said.
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