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Monday, 26 November 2012

Was the Massachusetts Board of Registration Too Harsh on this case of Doctor-Patient Sex?

The Boston Globe recently reported that the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine revoked the license of Dr. Gary Brockington, a 54 year old primary care physician and cardiologist, for having had a sexual relationship with a patient.

I've not been able to get a copy of the report from the Division of Administrative Law Appeals, so I'm entirely dependent on the Boston Globe story, which has extensive quotes from Brockington's lawyer. The story, if accurate and complete, leads me to speculate that revocation of licensure may be too severe a penalty in this specific situation.

According to the Globe, Brockington experienced a Job-like series of events in 2006. He was newly divorced, bankrupt, and depressed. During the same stretch of time his sister (his only sibling) broke her neck and was left by her husband. Brockington became legal guardian for her two young children.

One of his patients, a married woman who was a technician at the hospital where Brockington practiced, and who had worked with him on procedures, invited him to stay in her basement. According to Brockington's lawyer he told her she would have to get another primary care physician. He did, however, renew some prescriptions for her. He stayed in her home for two months. Apparently the brief sexual relationship occurred during the last two weeks of his stay. He moved out in July, 2006. The woman did not herself register a complaint.

If, as Brockington's lawyer claims, the facts show that this was a single episode in an otherwise exemplary career, it's not clear that public safety requires permanent loss of license. In other posts I've strongly supported permanent loss of license when the pattern of facts was different, as in this case. In another case, I concluded that Rhode Island was correct when it reinstated the license of a physician who participated in an extensive rehabilitation program, and agreed to continue in ongoing psychotherapy and long term supervision of practice. (see here)

The spokesman for the Massachusetts Board of Registration is quoted as saying that "the board has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct between physicians and patients." I believe that "zero tolerance" is the correct stance, but don't believe that sexual misconduct always requires permanent loss of license. If the Boston Globe article is the full story, a case can be made that this was a single, out-of-character episode that occurred in extraordinarily stressful circumstances. If that is how the Board saw the situation, I believe it acted too harshly.


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