February 16, 2017

QUESTION:        Our Medical Staff Credentials Policy has a detailed list of threshold eligibility criteria.  In the provisions that deal with criminal histories, the policy mentions felonies and misdemeanors that involve “moral turpitude.”  What’s moral turpitude?

ANSWER:            Moral turpitude is a broad term that can be used to refer to a variety of crimes.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines moral turpitude as “conduct that is contrary to justice, honesty, or morality.”  The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual explains that the most common elements of moral turpitude are “(1) Fraud; (2) Larceny; and (3) Intent to harm persons or things.”  Blended together, you might say that moral turpitude refers to acts which clearly involve fraud, larceny, or an unjust attempt to cause serious harm to persons or property.  If you have any one of those three ingredients, you’re most likely dealing with an act of moral turpitude.

Be prepared for applicants who try to hide their questionable criminal history by twisting the meaning of “moral turpitude” or understanding it in a very narrow sense.  For example, maybe an applicant has been convicted of crimes relating to the possession of controlled substances.  This person might argue that his conviction didn’t involve moral turpitude, because he didn’t obtain the controlled substances by fraud, didn’t steal them, and didn’t intend to hurt anyone else by using them.

For this reason, keep in mind that “moral turpitude” is not a catch-all term and won’t patch up a set of poorly-drafted threshold eligibility criteria.  However, we do recommend including it in your policies, because it encompasses a wide variety of criminal conduct that could reflect negatively on a person’s suitability for Medical Staff appointment.  As a best practice, consider calling out other specific categories of offenses, such as criminal possession of controlled substances, so that you get a full picture of an applicant’s background.

While we always advise our clients to adopt robust eligibility criteria and to set a high standard for their Medical Staff, we recognize that criminal backgrounds can be a controversial subject and that institutions will have different perspectives on the matter.  The most important thing is to ensure that your policies reflect your values and your goals.