WASHINGTON -- Even if Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) manages to win reelection, his job as a doctor in the Volunteer State could be in jeopardy after a phone transcript has revealed him pressuring his patient and mistress to get an abortion.
In the transcript, first reported Wednesday by The Huffington Post, DesJarlais cajoles his mistress, whom he met on the job, to abort a pregnancy he suspected was the result of their affair. The woman was under DesJarlais' care for a foot injury, and in their conversation they discuss how their relationship began after DesJarlais called her to check in on her progress.
They argue about which one of them actually started the indiscretion, but medical ethics guidelines suggest that any patient-doctor sexual relationship is out of bounds.
Neither DesJarlais nor his campaign have disputed the facts of the call, merely calling the news, which broke Wednesday, "old."
According to the guidelines of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, the state would consider any violation of the American Medical Association's ethics rules to be also a violation of state ethics rules.
In the case of a sexual relationship with a patient, the AMA has very little gray area. According to the AMA, "Sexual contact that occurs concurrent with the patient-physician relationship constitutes sexual misconduct."
Even if DesJarlais' relationship can be deemed to have started after her treatment, it would still be deemed highly problematic. "Sexual or romantic relationships with former patients are unethical if the physician uses or exploits trust, knowledge, emotions, or influence derived from the previous professional relationship," the AMA says.
The most favorable interpretation for DesJarlais of his behavior as discussed in the transcript would involve deciphering the latter scenario; but if the woman got any medical advice or follow-up care after the sexual relationship began, the more damning sexual misconduct rule would apply.
Either could pose a problem for DesJarlais, whose medical license expires in 2014, according Tennessee state records. No special standing is need to file a complaint against DesJarlais for his affair, as anyone in Tennessee can file a complaint with the medical board, according to a spokeswoman for the heath department.
It is not clear, however, what penalty DesJarlais would face from the medical board's members. "They have broad discretion within their rules and regulations to impose disciplinary action as deemed appropriate," said spokeswoman Shelley Walker.
Penalties can range from a private rebuke for "near infractions" to formal reprimands, license suspensions or permanent revocations for egregious violations.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.