An editorial on Dr. Bennett: I couldn’t have said it better myself

Reprinted from the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Doctor’s orders: Don’t replace them with lawyer’s orders

ROCHESTER DOCTOR Terry Bennett told an obese patient she was fat and should lose weight, and for that the state board of medicine is trying to discipline him. Sounds like board members need to see a doctor themselves “” to have their heads examined.

Dr. Bennett said his patient was merely overweight when he first told her to drop some pounds. Because she didn’t listen to him, she eventually became obese and developed diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux and chest pains, he said. Then he really got stern with her.

“I told a fat woman she was obese,” he said. “I tried to get her attention. I told her you need to get on a program, join a group of like-minded people and peel off the weight that is going to kill you.”

Rather than thank the doctor for trying to save her life, the patient filed a complaint with the New Hampshire Board of Medicine. That in itself was absurd. But the real lunacy came when the board objected to a subcommittee’s recommendation simply to send the doctor a letter of concern and instead asked the Attorney General’s office to investigate.

Imagine. With all the real crime the Attorney General’s office has to handle, the board of medicine thought it would be a good use of a state attorney’s time to investigate whether a doctor was too harsh when he told a patient her obesity would kill her.

If the board succeeds in disciplining Dr. Bennett, then every physician in the state will think twice before giving unhealthy patients the advice they need. Some might even feel the need to run their advice by an attorney before giving it. Such a chilling effect would endanger people’s lives, and it cannot be allowed to happen. Doctors must be able to speak freely to their patients, even if it means hurting their feelings.

The board of medicine consists of eight members appointed by the governor to five-year terms. At the first opportunity, Gov. John Lynch should replace any member who voted to have Dr. Bennett investigated by the Attorney General’s office and officially wrist-slapped by the board. Anyone who thinks that sternly warning a patient to lose weight is a no-no for a doctor does not belong in a position of authority over the state’s physicians.