The Tennessee Department of Health has been asked to investigate whether U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a doctor, had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient.
The nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked for the investigation in a complaint filed Monday. Based in Washington, D.C., the organization said Tennessee law prohibits doctors from engaging in relationships with patients.
DesJarlais, who lives in South Pittsburg near Chattanooga, is a first-term Tennessee Republican whose district includes part of Roane County, including areas north and west of Oak Ridge.
In a letter to supporters on Friday, DesJarlais acknowledged that he was involved with an unnamed woman he had treated for a foot injury while he was legally separated from his wife during divorce proceedings 12 years ago.
“The relationship was completely mutual,” DesJarlais said.
But in its complaint, CREW said that doesn’t matter. Tennessee’s medical policy holds the physician responsible for maintaining “the boundaries of the professional relationship by avoiding and refraining from sexual contact with patients,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan wrote.
“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,” Sloan said. “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 has been under fire during the past week for being a pro-life congressman who pressured the woman to get an abortion. But in his letter, DesJarlais said the woman was not pregnant and there was no abortion. He said he used “strong rhetoric” in a telephone call recorded a dozen years ago to try to get the woman to admit the truth, “that there was no pregnancy.”
The allegations against DesJarlais, first reported by the Huffington Post last week, have been based on transcripts of a telephone call that the congressman said was recorded without his knowledge. He said earlier media reports of his relationship with the woman were inaccurate and incomplete, and he characterized the focus on the conversation as “smear tactics” and “desperate personal attacks.”
DesJarlais has had a license to practice medicine in Tennessee as a general practitioner since November 1993, and his license expires in February 2014, according to state records.
DesJarlais, who defeated Democrat Lincoln Davis two years ago, is running against Democrat Eric Stewart, a state senator, in the Nov. 6 election for U.S. House of Representatives in Tennessee’s Fourth District.