Physician Congressman Fined for Having Sex With 2 Patients

May 24, 2013

Rep. Scott DesJarlais, MD (R-TN), was fined $500 by the state medical board in Tennessee for having sexual relationships with 2 female patients in 2000, according to a consent order approved by the board on May 22.

The Board of Medical Examiners of Tennessee also reprimanded Dr. DesJarlais, characterizing his behavior as "unprofessional conduct."

Dr. DesJarlais, a general practitioner who was first elected to represent Tennessee's Fourth Congressional District in 2010, signed the consent order on May 20.

The consent order describes in bare-bones fashion what was laid out in voluminous detail about Dr. DesJarlais' personal life during and after his 2012 reelection campaign. From roughly January 2000 to May 2000, Dr. DesJarlais "had a sexual relationship with 2 female patients," the order states. "No documentation exists to show whether or not the physician-patient relationship was severed prior to the commencement of a romantic relationship with either female patient."

The board fined Dr. DesJarlais $250 for each patient. He also is responsible for the state's cost of prosecuting the case, up to $1000.

The prohibition against sexual relationships between physicians and patients goes all the way back to the Hippocratic Oath, which says that the oath-taker will come for the benefit of the sick in whatever house he visits, "remaining free...of sexual relations with both female and male persons."

The Code of Medical Ethics of the American Medical Association also proscribes "sexual contact that occurs concurrent with the patient-physician relationship," saying that it "detract(s) from the goals of the physician-patient relationship, may exploit the vulnerability of the patient, may obscure the physician's objective judgment concerning the patient's health care, and ultimately may be detrimental to the patient's well-being."

"There Was Never Any Pregnancy, and There Was No Abortion"

A watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Tennessee Department of Health last October to investigate Dr. DesJarlais for engaging in inappropriate sexual relationships with 2 women after they became an issue in his 2012 reelection campaign. In a press release issued yesterday, CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan called the $500 fine a "slap on the wrist." The state medical board could have suspended or revoked Dr. DesJarlais' license, according to the press release.

"In reality, this decision demonstrates that Tennessee's ban on sexual exploitation of patients is essentially meaningless," Sloan said. "Doctors in the Volunteer State can freely prey on patients with little fear of repercussions."

Neither Dr. DesJarlais nor his Congressional office responded to a request for a comment on the $500 fine or to the remarks by Sloan.

The 2 relationships referenced in the consent order occurred before Dr. DesJarlais and his first wife divorced in 2001. Last fall, the Huffington Post obtained a transcript from court divorce records of a telephone conversation in which Dr. DesJarlais and an unidentified woman discuss an abortion to end a pregnancy claimed by the woman. "You told me you'd have an abortion, and now we're getting too far along without one," said Dr. DesJarlais, whose campaign material describes him as pro-life and pro-marriage.

In an "open letter to my supporters" posted on Facebook on October 13, 2012, Dr. DesJarlais said "there was never any pregnancy and there was no abortion." He said he had gotten involved in a "completely mutual" relationship with a woman he had briefly treated for a foot injury while he was legally separated from his first wife. Not believing the woman's claim that she was pregnant, "I used rather strong rhetoric in hopes it would lead her to admitting the truth — that there was no pregnancy," he said about the recorded conversation.

"I am not trying to justify my actions or say that I am without fault," Dr. DesJarlais said in the Facebook post. "But I am not the hypocrite my opponents and some liberal media outlets are portraying me as."

An article published yesterday in the newspaper The Tennessean quotes Dr. DesJarlais as saying that the complaint to the Tennessee Department of Health was politically motivated.

"I take responsibility for past mistakes and am happy to get this resolved," he was quoted as saying. "This predates my 11-year marriage to my current wife, and I treasure the support of her and my family."

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