Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Self-governance requires more of our nation's doctors

If you haven’t taken the time to read the AJC’s investigation of sexual abuse by doctors across the country , you owe it to yourself — and your loved ones — to do it.

I confess I let the first round of stories in July (more are planned well into the fall) pile up before I took the time to read through them. To call the reporting in-depth, and the revelations eye-opening and anger-inducing, is an understatement.

The headline finding: More than 2,400 doctors nationwide have been disciplined after being accused of sexual misconduct against patients during the 16-year period the AJC examined. That figure is certainly understated because of the opaque way in which state medical regulators handle and report such cases.

But that’s not the worst of it. Half of those abusive doctors identified by the AJC are still licensed to practice medicine. That includes two-thirds of those sanctioned for such violations in Georgia.

Many of them are serial abusers. Often, the extent of their predatory behavior isn’t known until years later. And the problem is compounded by the fact that only 11 states mandate that medical authorities notify law enforcement or prosecutors about potential sexual crimes against adults.

There are personal failings here — not just the obvious ones by the doctors themselves, but by those who had responsibility for guarding against such behavior and didn’t — as well as institutional ones.

One thing our Founders recognized was the need to prevent justice from being dependent on the goodness of man. Our system of checks and balances was designed to prevent human frailty from eroding our ordered liberty. Any element of public governance that doesn’t include similar safeguards, such as medical boards that aren’t required to forward criminal complaints to the criminal-justice system, fails their test.

But industries such as the medical profession are institutions unto themselves, and self-governance requires us, well, to govern ourselves, even when the safeguards are insufficient. To do what’s right even when no one’s looking.

While a law to require reporting of such accusations would be a good idea, it shouldn’t take a law. That should be a priority of the medical community itself.

An example can be found in another community with which I have a lot of familiarity : the Boy Scouts.

The revelations of abuse by adult leaders over the years have been painful for any of us who love Scouting and benefited from it. But none of us who were Scouts, or are now Scout leaders, can argue it was better not to know, or to try to handle matters in-house.

The sunlight cast on those instances of abuse has changed the culture. I see the difference from when I was a youth myself, working at summer camp and generally on a higher level than the average Boy Scout, to now. Training to know all the situations to avoid, and how to recognize when others might be doing something wrong, is not just more prevalent. It’s understood by those leaders I know to be a good and meaningful thing, not just a bothersome box to check.

That culture change took a long time and a lot of work. And there’s no way, with so many people involved, that it will eliminate every future problem. But it will prevent more than before.

It’s the kind of prescription the medical profession ought to try.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.