Doctor-patient sexual liaisons should stay a no go

An illustration by ST illustrator, Miel.
An illustration by ST illustrator, Miel. PHOTO: ST FILE

Professor Chong Siow Ann described the doctor-patient relationship as a fiduciary duty, and young doctors should heed his advice ("A violation of doctor-patient trust"; last Saturday).

A fiduciary duty is the relationship between two parties that obligates one to act solely in the interest of the other. The fiduciary owes the legal duty to a principal and strict care should be taken to ensure that no conflict of interest arises between the fiduciary and his principal.

Following a string of sex abuse scandals in 2007, Britain set out new guidelines for doctors, especially on sexual relationships between the doctor and his patient.

The guidelines stated that a doctor cannot pursue a sexual relationship with his patient, even when the patient's consent is given. Relationships with former patients are also generally not acceptable. In such cases, the relationship is considered unprofessional. Indeed, the patient seeks advice and treatment from a doctor as he is sick, but this relationship is potentially open to abuse. Vulnerable patients must be protected.

The fiduciary duty exists not only between a doctor and his patient, but also between a lawyer and his client, a teacher and his student, a real estate agent and his client, and even a priest and his parishioner.

While fairytale endings for romances between such parties may happen in movies, in real life, such fairytale endings are few and far between. Far more often, such romances result in calamity for both parties.

Fiduciary duties are sacred and all parties should be fully aware and maintain openness and transparency in order to prevent any abuse.

Heng Cho Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Doctor-patient sexual liaisons should stay a no go'. Print Edition | Subscribe