Sexual relationships between doctors and patients are unethical, even if consensual or instigated by the patient, the Medical Council of India (MCI) has declared.
Adopting and publishing guidelines outlined by the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS), the MCI said relationships between medicos and patients – past and present – should be discouraged and violate tenets of good medical practice . According to an official from the MCI’s ethics committee, the case of an Indian doctor in the United States who was earlier registered with the Council prompted the adoption of the IPS’s guidelines, at the urging of the Delhi High Court.
The IPS drew up the guidelines earlier this month in collaboration with the Bangalore Declaration Group, representing doctors of multiple specialties. Dr Ajit V. Bhide, the chairperson of the taskforce which devised the guidelines, stated “non-consensual sexual activity is a crime but doctors agree that even consensual sexual activity in a power-imbalanced relationship like that of a doctor and patient is not truly consensual” owing to the vulnerability of patients.
The guidelines themselves state
“Sexual relationships between doctors and patients invariably harm both the patient and the doctor. Trust, which is central to an effective doctor-patient relationship, is inevitably damaged. In view of the power gradient that invariably exists in the doctor-patient relationship, the onus is on the doctor to ensure he or she does not enter into a romantic or sexual relationship with a patient.”
The guidelines – and their adoption by the MCI – represents a major step in delineating the restraints on the boundaries of the doctor-patient relationship. By promoting them, it can be ensured that doctors and patients maintain a professional relationship and that patients are not – directly or indirectly – exploited by their caregivers.