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Bill introduced to make physician-patient sex crime

By JACK WEATHERLY

A bill has been introduced in the Legislature that would criminalize physicians having sex with patients.

Dr. John Hall, executive director of the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure, said late in 2016 that he was working with lawmakers to draft such a bill.

However, the effort ran into resistance from some members of the board.

State Attorney General Jim Hood will address the issue when the board’s executive committee meets at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

In the meantime, Rep. Jeffrey Smith, R-Columbus, introduced House Bill 340 last Friday. Efforts to reach Smith for this article were unsuccessful.

The board chairman, Dr. Charles Miles, said in an interview on Monday that “we will support whatever the Legislature passes.”

Still, he calls the measure a “simplistic solution” for a “complex problem.”

While he does not “think it is right for a doctor to be having sex with somebody he’s treating,” Miles said he is fearful of unintended consequences.

“I’ve never done it. I don’t expect anybody else to do it.”

“I hope we apply some common sense” in the legislative process, Miles said.

He offered a hypothetical situation that might pose a problem.

“Let’s say I write my wife a prescription for cough medicine. Where are you going to send me” as a felon, if convicted?

Miles said he expects some changes to be made to the measure during the legislative process.

Presently, the board can only take an offending physician’s license, though it is at the board’s discretion.

HB 340 requires the board to permanently revoke a physician’s license if he or she is convicted of sexual relationship with a patient.

Another question from Miles: how do you monitor such relationships?

Hall said on Monday that the legislation is “really out of the board’s hands.”

Also, he said Smith and legislative staffers were already crafting the bill before a series by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution series was published.

An article in the series ranked Mississippi last in protecting patients from predatory doctors.

Hall said he saw the measure before it was introduced. He was asked by those crafting it whether he thought it was “doable from a regulatory sense.”

Hall said he thought it was.

He said it is “very similar” to statutes passed in Washington state, which Hall says provides a good model.

One provision in HB 340 is a provision for a 12-month period that “eliminates the heat of the moment” by allowing a physician to commence an intimate relationship with a former patient 12 months after a professional relationship has ended.

The law would apply to a sexual relationship, consensual or not, with physicians, physician assistants, “key third parties,” podiatrists, acupuncturists and radiology assistants.

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