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November 28, 1994

Sexual Relationships Between Physicians and Patients

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester (Dr Appelbaum), and the law firm of Spero and Jorgenson, Cambridge, Mass (Mss Jorgenson and Sutherland).

Arch Intern Med. 1994;154(22):2561-2565. doi:10.1001/archinte.1994.00420220053006

In the face of evidence suggesting that there is a substantial incidence of sexual contact between physicians of all specialties and their patients, the medical profession and the courts have not yet reached a consensus regarding appropriate responses. Some commentators, including the American Medical Association, have urged bans on sexual contact during treatment and extensive restriction of posttreatment sexual relationships. Others favor looser restrictions, particularly after termination of the physician-patient relationship. These differences in approach stem from the varying importance given the two conflicting values involved: (1) protecting patients from being harmed by unfair manipulation by physicians and (2) insulating choices about intimate relationships from intrusion by society. We propose a model for balancing these interests that would bar sexual contact during the physician-patient relationship and for a fixed period after termination; thereafter, in most cases, sexual relationships would not be proscribed. A waiting-period approach of this sort is likely to diminish most of the harms that might result from physician-patient sexual contact and may constitute a template for the resolution of similar issues elsewhere in society.

(Arch Intern Med. 1994;154:2561-2565)

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