Telling the Truth the “Wrong Way”
The issue is whether a physician loses the right of free speech because he is a physician. Can the speech presenting realistic clinical information to a patient be found to be of the same harm as crying out “fire” as a prank in a filled theater? Or is there a limitation to speech because it may be contrary to professional standards?
The case, as published in the New Hampshire Union Leader is regarding the action of the New Hampshire Board of Medicine versus Dr. Terry Bennett and raises these questions. A year ago, a patient whom Dr. Bennett had been following for her obesity and who had developed complications of her weight disorder took offense at his “obesity lecture” and filed a complaint with the Board of Medicine.
“The State Law state law authorizes the board to take disciplinary action against physicians who engage in providing false information, practicing medicine while impaired, behavior that is incompatible with basic knowledge and competence, dishonest or unprofessional conduct, negligence, allowing an unlicensed person to practice in the physician's office, failing to provide aseptic safeguards, dishonest advertising or statements, willfully violating the Medical Practice Act or if convicted of a felony.” My understanding is that this authorization represents the usual standard criteria for disciplinary action. The complaint was not dismissed and is being investigated by the Attorney General’s office with a public hearing to be scheduled.
How and to what degree a physician expresses valid information to a patient with the intent to benefit the patient is an open question and depends on the personality, knowledge and motivation of both the physician and patient. It is my opinion that the penalty to the doctor for the consequences of telling the truth the “wrong way” should be the loss of a patient since the patient has the right to leave the physician’s care and go to another doctor. Prosecution of the physician for the results of this type of speech is wrong. ..Maurice.