CONCORD, New Hampshire – A judge has ordered the state Board of Medicine to stop disciplinary proceedings against a doctor accused of telling a patient she was so obese she might only be attractive to black men and advising another to shoot herself following brain surgery.
Judge Edward Fitzgerald made clear in a ruling released Thursday that he did not condone remarks attributed to Dr. Terry Bennett and found them unnecessary, but ruled Bennett had a right to speak bluntly.
"It is nonetheless important ... to ensure that physicians and patients are free to discuss matters relating to health without fear of government reprisal, even if such discussions may sometimes be harsh, rude or offensive to the listener," he concluded in the ruling Wednesday.
The complaints against Bennett included charges that he told a white patient that she was so obese she might only be attractive to black men.
"Let's face it, if your husband were to die tomorrow, who would want you?" the board has said Bennett told the overweight patient in June 2004. "Well, men might want you, but not the types you want to want you. Might even be a black guy," it quoted him as saying, based on the woman's complaint.
Bennett, 68, has denied making the comment, but has said he has seen polls supporting that position.
"If you look at the polling, nobody likes fat women," he said last year. "Is it right? No. Is it sensible? No. Is it true? Yeah ... Black guys are the only group that don't mind that. Is that racist to say that?"
A 2001 complaint accused Bennett of telling a woman recovering from brain surgery to buy a pistol and shoot herself to end her suffering. The doctor was also accused of speaking harshly to a woman about how her son might have contracted hepatitis, according to the ruling.
Bennett claimed victory.
"The question now is: Will the board waste more of your and my tax dollars and appeal this, or accept done as done?" he said in a telephone interview.
Fitzgerald also ruled that state and American Medical Association requirements to treat patients with "compassion and respect for human dignity and rights" are so vague they are unconstitutional. Bennett probably would have won his challenges before the board, the judge said.
Bennett said he planned to sue everyone involved for "malicious prosecution."
"I am not inclined to be forgiving about it," he said. "It's been devastating and infuriating."
Assistant Attorney General Elyse Alkalay, who represented the board in the court case, said she was reviewing the ruling and had not decided whether to appeal.
Bennett could have faced penalties ranging from a written reprimand to suspension or revocation of his medical license.