Govt eyes stricter penalties for sexual misconduct by doctors, dentists

Doctors and dentists who have sexually assaulted patients may soon face stricter administrative penalties, including losing their medical licenses, under a planned reform currently under review at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

At present, disciplinary measures are, in principle, only applied to doctors and dentists who have been ordered to pay fines or heavier penalties in a court of law after being convicted of sexual and other criminal offenses. The ministry plans to hold more offenders accountable, such as by broadening the scope of actionable claims to include supporting evidence verified as accurate in civil courts.

Current regulations, namely the Medical Practitioners Law, stipulate that disciplinary action can be meted out against convicted doctors and dentists in consultation with the Medical Ethics Council, an advisory body to the health minister.

These regulations provide recourse to discipline medical professionals, even without a conviction, in instances where their conduct was deemed “grievously unbecoming of the dignity of a doctor or dentist.” However, such offenders have largely escaped punishment, given the difficulty of establishing the facts surrounding allegations.

The ruling coalition has called attention to a number of cases, including one psychiatrist accused of sexual assault who was allowed to resume practice immediately after reaching an out-of-court settlement.

In response, the ministry plans to clearly articulate examples of sexual misconduct that warrant disciplinary action, such as when a doctor or dentist exploits their standing as medical professionals to inappropriately touch patients.

The ministry also seeks to clarify disciplinary protocols to ensure that offenders can be penalized even without being tried in criminal court, when the allegations against them can be verified through civil court records and other demonstrable sources.