Comments from the AJC Doctors & Sex Abuse series

From the AJC’s Doctors & Sex Abuse series:

In Louisiana, the AJC found physician discipline laws that are among the most doctor-friendly in the nation. Even so, Louisiana doctors complained that the state’s medical board staff was too aggressive with its investigations. So last year, the doctors’ lobby asked for changes to make the law more favorable for doctors, with the goal of reining in what can happen when a patient files a complaint.

Jennifer Marusak, a lobbyist for the Louisiana State Medical Society, said lawmakers gave doctors what they needed and deserved: due process rights and basic protections when they are accused of wrongdoing and their highly valued careers are on the line.

“If you spent your whole life, basically since you were 18, training to be a physician, what are you going to do?” Marusak said. “I mean, what else are you going to go do?”

Regarding Rhode Island medical board reforms:

State Rep. Michael Chippendale said doctors today need protections from a state licensing board that can be overly aggressive and unfair. He called the changes made in the 1980s an example of how his state has “refined and perfected the knee-jerk reaction.”

Among the changes he wants: a return to a disciplinary board made up mostly of doctors.

“I do not think people who spent 12 to 18 years of their lives in secondary education and doing internships to become medical professionals need to have their license stripped away by someone who sat through a 45-hour real estate course,” he said.

Regarding Georgia:

“Having a bold, bright line saying a felony equals this or that is not good policy,” said Bob Jeffery, executive director of the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

Jeffery said criminal courts punish offenders and civil courts can compensate victims. Medical regulators, he said, have a different role.

“A licensing board is charged with making sure a (doctor) is safe to practice and that patients are protected,” he said.

Larry Dixon, the executive director of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, has heard the argument that doctors who engage in sexual misconduct should be barred from practice. He doesn’t buy it.

“If you graduate a class of more than 100 people out of the University of Alabama medical school, the resources that have been poured into that education almost demand that you try to salvage that physician — if it’s possible,” said Dixon, who has led the Alabama board for 35 years.

Stop and think, he said, about how badly many communities need their doctors.

“You do not think so? Then leave Atlanta and go down to a little Georgia town and get sick,” Dixon said. “See how far they have to go to find a doctor.”

Dr. Steven Stack, former president of the American Medical Association:

“The AMA condemns sexual misconduct by physicians, period,” Stack said. “There is no exception for that.”

Except:

“We believe in redemption sometimes for people,” Stack said. “There are people who are, perhaps, serial offenders, and the medical boards need to remove them, and they need not to have the opportunity for further chances. Then there are other people for whom the circumstances make all the difference.”

Doctors, he said, “are humans like anybody else, and there are a lot of complexities in some of these cases.”

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