Congressman Scott DesJarlais, the self-declared pro-life/family-values Republican who is seeking re-election in District 4, doesn't deny the tape-recorded revelation that he pressured a lover to get an abortion, ostensibly to help him save his marriage. Still, he seems to have a hard time accepting the fact that he should resign his seat and quit his campaign because of his hypocrisy. That's not unusual for a stereotypical Washington charlatan. The Capitol has seen a long bipartisan string of playboys who tried, and ultimately failed, to stay in office amid scandal.
Two concurrent events growing out of the recently revealed tape recording, however, should help DesJarlais leave office. One is the medical ethics complaint filed against him Monday to the Tennessee Health Department over the affair with his patient. The complainant is the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C. The second is the movement, also announced on Monday, by the Tennessee Conservative Union to unite Republican-leaning groups in a demand to DesJarlais to resign from Congress.
Both should propel grass-roots opposition in his congressional district to oust DesJarlais from office. His dithering refusal to resign his seat and withdraw from his campaign for re-election will only extend his embarrassing dilemma.
It is quite possible, for example, that the complaint by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics will prompt additional complaints against him over ethics. Anyone with information pertaining to DesJarlais' admitted relationship with a patient could file an independent complaint.
"Tennessee law is crystal clear. Doctors are prohibited from engaging in sexual relationships with patients," the executive director of the organization asserted this week, and there is no statute of limitations. "The only question remaining is, now that Tennessee authorities are aware of Rep. DesJarlais' blatantly unethical and scurrilous conduct, what are they going to do about it."
Indeed, at least five Tennessee physicians have been disciplined since 2005 for consensual sexual relationships with patients, according to state records. Investigations are particularly required in such incidents, because physicians hold positions of unique trust with their patients, and patients, in turn, are often particularly vulnerable to exploitation by authority figures.
Thus the state Health Department is obliged to move forward with an investigation. Discipline for a finding of unethical conduct, in an array of circumstances, can result in a suspension of a physician's license to practice. And if that, or any other disciplinary action, were to be imposed against DesJarlais was in Congress, it would be hard to keep secret, and it also would be doubly embarrassing for him and his constituents.
DesJarlais, however, has said that he doesn't see his doctor-patient relationship "as a disqualifying issue" for a post-congressional career in medicine. Voters may well see it as a disqualifying issue for his seat in Congress, however, and with good reason. It contradicts the values he professes to respect and promote.
The Tennessee Conservative Union's effort to build a coalition to demand DesJarlais' resignation reflects that sentiment. Lloyd Daugherty, the union's chairman, says his group is "very upset that he's broken his medical creed and the trust of the citizens of his district." If DesJarlais doesn't get it, voters should show him the door.