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Thursday, 29 November 2012

More about the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine and Doctor-Patient Sex

There were two letters to the editor in today's Boston Globe about the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine's decision to take away Dr. Gary Brockington's license. (See here for my original post.)

Nurse Mary Hourihan gives a perspective on Dr. Brockington's overall practice like what we've heard from patients of other physicians who have been disciplined for sexual relationships with patients:
As a nurse who has worked at the Faulkner Hospital for more than 30 years, I was shocked and saddened to read your article concerning the state Board of Registration in Medicine’s revocation of Dr. Gary Brockington’s medical license (“Board revokes Faulkner cardiologist’s license after affair,” Metro, Nov. 24). The doctor has cared for his many patients with the utmost professionalism and expertise. Although I do not work directly with him, nearly every day I hear from our mutual patients the reverence in which he is held.

The board is denying thousands of patients the skilled, sensitive care this extraordinary physician provides. I feel that Brockington and his patients deserve reconsideration of this decision.

Mary Hourihan

West Roxbury  
There's nothing surprising about the fact that a physician who displayed a serious ethical lapse with a patient may have been an excellent physician for most or almost all of his patients. (For example, see here.) In my own experience, a former colleague who I knew to be a superb physician, such that I referred one of my sons to him for allergy care, has been convicted for murdering his wife! In prison, he continues to evince the caretaking characteristics that were so prominent in his care of patients. (See here.)

Donald Ross, a physician colleague of Dr. Brockington, comes to the same conclusion I did - that if Brockington's relationship with the patient was a brief, one-time event that occurred during a period of major stress, the Board's actions were too harsh. But I don't agree with Ross that the Board's decision necessarily reflects "lack of compassion." A Board can impose a severe penalty and still regard to person being penalized with compassion, in accord with the precept that we should hate the sin but love the sinner.
In reading the story about Dr. Gary Brockington’s affair with a woman who was a patient and a co-worker, it strikes me that the reaction of the state Board of Registration in Medicine was over the top and lacked compassion in its response (“State revokes Faulkner cardiologist’s license after affair,” Metro, Nov. 24).

Perhaps there was poor judgment involved, but this does not sound like a case in which a doctor used his position in the doctor-patient relationship in an exploitative way. Brockington was also going through a difficult time in his own personal life at the time, and sometimes we don’t make our best decisions under such circumstances.

Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to require Brockington to enter a counseling program rather than imposing what is essentially a death penalty to his career.

Dr. Donald G. Ross

North Andover
As I said in my original post, if Brockington's relationship with his patient was (1) brief, (2) a single occurrence in his practice and not a pattern, (3) occurred at a time of major stress, and (4) has been followed by years of responsible caretaking, than (5) permanent loss of license seems too severe a penalty. This is not a matter of compassion but of realism. Some perpetrators of unethical behavior can be rehabilitated and will be able to serve others in a reliably ethical manner.


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