Mississippi lawmaker seeks crackdown on sexually abusive doctors

A veteran Mississippi lawmaker wants doctors who sexually abuse patients to face serious new criminal penalties and mandatory license revocations.

Rep. Jeffrey C. Smith, a Republican who is chairman of the Ways and Means committee, has introduced legislation that would make it a felony for a physician to engage in sexual activity with a patient -- even in cases where the contact is apparently consensual.

 Mississippi State Rep. Jeffrey C. Smith

Credit: Carrie Teegardin

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Credit: Carrie Teegardin

The legislation would also require the permanent revocation of the medical license of any doctor convicted under the law, with no chance of reinstatement.

The push by Smith, a former prosecutor, comes after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution rated Mississippi as having the weakest patient-protection laws in the nation when it comes to sexually abusive doctors. The AJC's 50-state report card was part of the newspaper's Doctors & Sex Abuse series.

Mississippi scored poorly on almost every category of patient-protection laws examined by the newspaper. If the legislation passes, it would join just a handful of states that criminalize sexual contact between all doctors and patients. Many states have laws that prohibit sexual contact between therapists and patients, but not all medical doctors, the AJC found.

Doctors aren't the only health care providers covered by the legislation. Physician assistants, podiatrists, acupuncture professionals and licensed radiologists would also face felony charges and permanent license revocations if they engage in sexual activity with a patient.

The bill would prohibit doctors from sexual activity with current patients or former patients within 12 months after the end of the physician-patient relationship.

The AJC's Doctors & Sex Abuse investigation uncovered a culture of secrecy and deference to physicians that permits doctors across the country to keep practicing after they've been disciplined for sexual  misconduct. In the thousands of cases that the AJC's reporters examined, more than half the doctors publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct with patients since 1999 were still licensed to practice this summer.

The series has prompted several states to consider changes to protect patients.