New patient protection law must allow sentencing discretion

Although the sexual abuse of patients by health professionals is a serious concern, newly introduced legislation aimed at addressing this problem limits the ability of College discipline panels to apply case-specific discretion when imposing penalties, Lonny Rosen and Elyse Sunshine write in the Toronto Star.

Ontario’s proposed Bill 87, the Protecting Patients Act, 2016, includes changes to the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 (RHPA), which aims to, among other things, combat sexual abuse by health professionals.

“The legislation comes on the heels of criticism levied against the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario for the failure of its discipline committee to revoke the licences of physicians who were found to have engaged in sexual abuse,” they write.

Rosen and Sunshine explain that frank acts of sexual abuse — including penetration, oral sex and masturbation — carry a mandatory penalty of revocation under the current legislation.

Professionals who engaged in other types of sexual abuse have not necessarily lost their licences, but have instead been subject to “lesser” penalties, such as suspensions.

However, they write: “The proposed legislation will remove the discretion to order a penalty other than revocation where the member is found to have sexually touched the patient’s genitals, anus, breasts or buttocks. The legislation also provides a new definition of ‘patient,’ which includes a person who was a patient of health professional within the last year.”

As a result, the proposed legislation will capture many circumstances that people would likely view as less egregious.

Read the full article here.

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