The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled the law prohibiting mental health doctors and therapists from having sexual relationships with their patients cannot be applied to general health or family physicians.
According to a report in The Legal Intelligencer reprinted by the Pittsburg Post-Gazette
, the court ruling reverses a 2009 split decision by a lower state court that all doctors, regardless of practice, "need to maintain the same trust when rendering psychological care."
Writing in the 5-1 decision based on the case of a woman who had a relationship with her family doctor while being treated by him for depression, the state's Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said that while the doctor's conduct may be considered an ethics violation it was not necessarily illegal.
The malpractice lawsuit against the doctor claimed that his actions and his treatment of prescribing anti-depressants, as a mental health doctor might, worsened his patient's condition. The woman and her husband argued in the lawsuit that under Pennsylvania law a general practice doctor is licensed to provide mental health services and should therefore be held accountable, as a psychiatrist or psychologist would be, to engaging in an affair with a patient.
One judge on the state high court agreed.
"In my view, when a general practitioner undertakes to render treatment to a patient for mental health disorders, which the physician is legally permitted to provide, it is not unreasonable for that physician to understand and know the basic consequences of such care," Justice Debra Todd wrote in dissent.
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