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Patient sues doctor for malpractice after extramarital affair

A woman was awarded $416,500 by a jury in a medical malpractice case against her former family doctor. The malpractice case was based on the fact that the doctor had engaged in an extramarital affair with her during the time that he was treating her for multiple medical conditions including some mental health issues.

This case raises some very serious issues about doctors who may take advantage of the confidential and close relationship that they have with many of their patients. Not only in the context of a romantic relationship, but also in terms of exerting other types of inappropriate influence over a patient.

In this case, the doctor was treating his patient for a gastrointestinal condition and apparently offering some mental health treatment as well. The relationship ceased to be professional about 18 months into the patient's treatment, but the doctor continued to see her and apparently treat her medical conditions which included debilitating panic attacks.

When the relationship with the doctor ended, her marriage also fell apart, leading to a divorce.

The case went before an appeals court recently as the doctor continues to fight the malpractice charges, although his attorney told the panel of judges that the affair was clearly unethical and a breach of his professional obligation to the patient.

The attorney representing the patient in this case told the court that she was in a fragile and vulnerable mental state when she was being treated by this doctor, and that she couldn't control her actions that ultimately started the affair. The doctor, privileged to detailed information about her condition, likely should have realized that she was vulnerable and should not have engaged in the nine month long affair.

What do you think - is this simply unethical or is it also medical malpractice?

Source: Associated Press, "NY court weighs affair as medical malpractice," Michael Virtanen, Oct. 20, 2012.

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