By Chas Sisk / The Tennessean
The Tennessee Department of Health has been asked to investigate evidence that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais had a sexual relationship with a patient, an allegation that could open the congressman to disciplinary action for violating medical ethics.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said Monday that it had filed a complaint against DesJarlais following reports that he encouraged an unnamed woman to have an abortion after she told him she was carrying his child. The disclosure was based on a partial transcript of a telephone conversation between the two filed during DesJarlais' divorce proceedings a decade ago.
DesJarlais has not contested the accuracy of the transcript, saying in a letter to supporters last week that the conversation was recorded without his knowledge before his divorce was finalized in 2001. DesJarlais said he used "strong rhetoric" to get the woman to admit that she was not pregnant.
CREW, a Washington-based organization that describes itself as a watchdog group, said the relationship violates Tennessee's medical ethics code even if it was consensual. The group urges the department's Office of Investigations to look into the case.
"The fact that Dr. DesJarlais engaged in a sexual relationship with a female patient he was treating for a medical condition - something he does not deny - merits an immediate investigation and sanctions," writes Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director. "That Dr. DesJarlais was married at the time of the relationship and urged this woman to have an abortion if pregnant simply adds to the outrageousness of his conduct and indicates serious disciplinary action is required to protect the public."
DesJarlais is licensed as a general practitioner until Feb. 28, 2014. Records maintained by the Department of Health show no disciplinary actions against the Republican congressman, who has been licensed to practice medicine in Tennessee since 1993.
Complaints are kept confidential unless a practitioner is disciplined. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health declined to comment on CREW's filing.
In interviews last week, DesJarlais confirmed that he had been involved in a relationship with a woman he had briefly treated for a foot injury. DesJarlais said the relationship was "completely mutual," and in the conversation, he repeatedly asks the woman to confirm that he did not ask her out first.
CREW says Tennessee's medical ethics code makes no distinctions over who initiates the relationship.