April 2, 2010
By DAMIEN CAVE
MIAMI — Doctors take the Hippocratic oath promising to do no harm, but once that requirement is fulfilled, do they have a right to choose patients based on politics?
One Republican urologist outside Orlando has stirred up a tempest by suggesting that they do. A sign hanging this week in the office of Dr. Jack Cassell clearly states a preference for patients who agree with his opposition to the president, and to the recently passed health care overhaul.
“If you voted for Obama,” says the taped-up sign, “seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your healthcare begin right now. Not in four years.”
Perhaps it was just a matter of time before the partisan rancor surrounding health care found its way into patient care. Civil rights law prevents discrimination based on sex or religion, but experts say that political differences are not specifically protected — consider it a pre-existing condition that can still be used for patient filtering.
The logic for some, especially here in a contentious swing state like Florida, seems to be simple: Stand up and stay separated. If states, counties or towns can be red and blue, Republican and Democratic, why not every place within those areas? Why not make sure that even in doctors’ offices people can feel secure in knowing they are sharing space with those who are share their views?
Dr. Cassell, 56, could not be reached for comment. The phone at his office was continuously busy Friday, and the doors were locked before 4 p.m.
In an interview with The Orlando Sentinel, he insisted that he would not refuse to treat a patient because of politics. “That would be unethical,” he said.
But he added that he would not mind if Democrats saw the sign and found another doctor. His wife is a Republican candidate for the local county commission. And Mount Dora, where Dr. Cassell’s office is located, is a town of 10,000 that leans conservative, so perhaps his position is just smart family politics.
That seemed to be the case Friday afternoon, when an older man in a yellow shirt dropped a letter of support into the doctor’s mailbox. Several passers-by also praised the doctor for taking a public stand against the health care overhaul.
“You’re going to see this more and more,” said Bob Cowan, 58, “People are very angry.”
Patients who disagree may feel less inclined to speak up. At least one patient referred to Dr. Cassell has sought care elsewhere, according to the office of Representative Alan Grayson. Mr. Grayson, a Democrat who was one of the boldest supporters of health care in the House, represents the neighborhood where Dr. Cassell’s office sits. His response was characteristic outrage.
“I think it’s disgusting,” he said. “I know that most people go into health care because they want to help sick people. They don’t have some political agenda. I think it’s outrageous that someone would try to press his political agenda.”
He added, “I think the sore losers are out in force.”
Amy Green contributed reporting from Mount Dora, Fla.