Should zero-tolerance ban on patient-doctor sex be amended to exempt spouses?

CBC photoIn Ontario, under no circumstances may a doctor have sex with a patient — even if that patient is the doctor's spouse.

This zero-tolerance ban on sexual relations between health professionals and their patients in Ontario needs a common-sense amendment, some practitioners say.

The Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council urges a spousal exemption, as the current law robs individuals of the choice to have their partner act as their health professional. In remote communities — or for individuals with trust issues — this can severely limit their options, the National Post's Tom Blackwell writes.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons, however, is concerned that exempting spouses from this rule will "fundamentally undermine" the ban's philosophy:

"If this change is made, there will be future victims of abuse who will be unprotected by our legislation," the College of Physicians and Surgeons warns in a submission to the Ontario health minister. "In our experience, vulnerability to sexual abuse can and does exist both within and outside spousal relationships."

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The Royal College of Dental Surgeons claims that the current law is an unnecessary affront, as the majority of dentists treat their spouses.

"This issue has been the most concerning issue before the profession for a great number of years," Peter Trainor, president of the regulatory body, tells the National Post. "It is absolutely wrong to equate, without any exception, the treatment of a spouse with sexual abuse. We feel this is absolutely draconian."

In 2010, this no-exemption law was upheld in court. A chiropractor in Waterloo, Ontario, was stripped of his license following a billing complaint from his live-in girlfriend. She did not accuse Dr. Vincent Leering of sexual abuse — yet the College of Chiropractors of Ontario still decided to prosecute him.

"This decision unequivocally makes it clear to health-care providers that zero tolerance means zero tolerance," Chris Paliare, a lawyer for the College of Chiropractors of Ontario, told the Globe and Mail following the verdict. "It is crystal clear. You cannot have sex with a patient."

The Court of Appeal admitted the penalty was harsh, but added that the chiropractor "could have avoided the entire problem…simply by not starting to see the complainant as his patient after they moved in together."

The Ontario Chiropractic Association and the Ontario Medical Association are backing the proposed exemption.

The Ontario Psychological Association stands by the no-exemption rule, adamant that it's never a good idea for a psychologist to provide his/her services to a family member.

The Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council recommends that, if the law is amended, "Colleges, who wish to continue to prohibit their members from treating their spouse, should make profession specific changes to professional misconduct regulations and/or standards of practice to enforce such practice."

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