We Need Thicker Skins

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On
the Today show this morning (8/24/05), a segment was aired
on the plight of Dr. Terry Bennett, a folksy-looking, middle-aged
physician practicing in Rochester, New Hampshire. Seems Dr. Bennett
told an obese patient that she needed to lose weight, and as a result
he has been under investigation for over a year by New Hampshire’s
attorney general and its state board of medicine.

Reading
between the lines, my impression is that the doctor said something
like: “Look, you’re five-feet-seven and 250 pounds. If you don’t
lose weight, you’re going to find yourself in the same boat as all
the other obese women out there, all alone and unwanted. Men your
age don’t like fat women. You need to start dieting.”

Does
this really merit a year-long investigation from two government
agencies? The woman was 100 lbs. overweight and already suffering
from diabetes and other weight-related health issues. Was the doctor
wrong in trying to frighten his apparently unconcerned patient into
medically desirable – perhaps even medically necessary
– corrective action?

Some
might argue that the doctor insulted her, or took the wrong tack
in degrading her feminine desirability. However, Dr. Bennett stated
that his comment was part of an “entire litany” of reasons why his
patient needed to lose weight, and that he wrote a letter of apology
to her once he understood her agitation. As he correctly noted,
this should have ended the matter. The doctor might have lost a
patient (who is, of course, free to find a less “obnoxious” physician),
and he might have learned a lesson in bedside manners as a result.
Obviously, if his blunt approach resulted in the loss of one patient
after another, he would change his style or go out of business –
the marketplace would have spoken.

The
letter of apology wasn’t good enough for this aggrieved woman, however,
and apparently she complained to as many government authorities
as would listen. I can almost hear the 250-lb. woman’s plaintive
cries: “He said I’m fat! He said no man would want me! Boo-hoo!”
Similarly, I can hear the response of the state’s overpaid drones:
“What!? A doctor said that!? Outrageous! Don’t worry, you’re a thinking,
feeling human being, and we’ll get him for you!”

So
they set out after Dr. Bennett. According to his account on Today,
he was offered the chance to atone for his sins by signing what
amounts to a public confession that he is a “disruptive physician.”
The state also wants him to undergo sensitivity training. Given
the circumstances, I (and Dr. Bennett, of course) find both of the
offered punishments patently ridiculous. Add to this the doctor’s
contention that “bedside manner” issues are not even subject to
review by the state board, and you have a truly nauseating government
intrusion into private affairs. Throw in the fact that the two state
investigations have gone on for an entire year – seriously,
what more could be involved other than interviewing the doctor and
his patient? – and you have a recipe that could make you lose
your breakfast! What a waste of time and taxpayers’ money –
but I suppose the New Hampshire government do-nothings consider
this a major do-something.

What’s
next – a lawsuit if I insult your family pet? Sorry, people –
you need to get thicker skins.

August
26, 2005

Andrew
S. Fischer has worked in various fields.

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