We Need Thicker Skins

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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