Ethics complaint filed against DesJarlais

By Marian Galbraith, Special to The Times

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed an ethics complaint against Jasper physician and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) for sexual misconduct with a female patient in 2001 and has requested an immediate investigation by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners.

The complaint comes in the wake of widespread reports that the pro-life, “conservative” Republican had an affair with a patient while married and later pressured the woman to have an abortion, based on the doctor’s own admissions in a tape-recorded conversation from 2001.

While CREW takes no position on the abortion issue, its executive director, Melanie Sloan, said her concern is that the congressman’s affair with a patient violated Tennessee law, specifically T.C.A. Section 63-6-214 (b)(1).

“Tennessee law takes a firm view on doctors who engage in sexual contact with their patients,” Sloan said.

“The fact that he claims to be a pro-life candidate and pressured someone to have an abortion is reprehensible, but the fact that he had an affair with a patient is clearly a violation of the law.”

In its letter dated October 12, 2012 to the Tennessee Dept of Health, CREW includes part of the transcript of a taped conversation between DesJarlais and an unnamed mistress, in which DesJarlais admits to the affair, but tries to blame the woman for starting it.

According to the Tennessee State Board of Medical Examiners’ policy statement on sexual misconduct, however, “the physician is the one who must recognize and set the boundaries between the care and compassion appropriate to medical treatment and the emotional responses which may lead to sexual misconduct.”

It goes on to state that, “upon the finding that a physician has committed unprofessional conduct by engaging in sexual misconduct, the Board will impose such discipline as the Board deems necessary to protect the public.”

Disciplinary action is said to include “restriction or limitation of the physician’s practice,” and “revocation or suspension of the physician’s license.”

The policy statement also includes detailed recommendations such as, “physicians must be alert to signs indicating that a patient may be encouraging a sexual relationship and must take all steps necessary to maintain the boundaries of the professional relationship including transferring the patient,” and, “physicians should not discuss their intimate personal problems/lives with patients.”

While DesJarlais now asserts that the woman was never pregnant to begin with, he has not denied sexual contact with her.

In addition to CREW’s complaint to the Health Department’s Office of Investigations, two other groups are making complaints of their own.

According to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, the chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union said Monday that he’s “talking with other Republican-leaning groups and exploring whether to demand U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., resign from Congress.”

In addition, the Democrats for Life of America are calling for the pro-life movement to withdraw its support of DesJarlais in Tennessee and instead support pro-life Democrat Eric Stewart, whom they claim is more “committed to pro-life principles.”

DesJarlais’s office was contacted regarding the publication of this article. Communications Director Robert Jameson said that his office had “no comment at this time.”

Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 6:04 pm