And How: The Keroack Saga Continues

Just when you thought the information surfacing about "Dr." Eric Keroack's professional practice and extracurricular pseudo-medical activities couldn't get any weirder … it just got weirder. Back in November, Keroack was appointed by Bush to head the Title X Federal Family Planning Program, amidst widespread outrage over the fact that he runs a chain of highly unethical crisis pregnancy centers, believes contraception is demeaning to women, and has used junk science to argue that premarital sex undermines women's biological capacity to fall in love. After just five months on the job, on March 29 Keroack abruptly resigned as Head-Anti-Family-Planning-Zealot in charge of meeting low-income women's family planning needs, amidst investigations into the legitimacy of his professional practice. This week, the Boston Globe took a closer look at the Mass. board of medicine's accusations, and their report indicates a disturbing series of ethical lapses that should come as no surprise to those who have been following the coverage of Keroack to date.

The Globe reports that earlier this year, Keroack received a pair of warnings from the Massachusetts board of medicine—one that ordered him to stop prescribing drugs to people who weren't his patients, and one that cautioned him against providing unlicensed mental health counseling. The warnings came in response to a May 2005 letter of complaint from the daughter of one of Keroack's patients, who wrote to the Mass. board of medicine after Keroack overmedicated her mother with Zoloft (by writing a prescription for the drug in her sister's name) and gave her mother money for "groceries, evenings out with her husband, and a Cape Cod getaway." Overstepping the boundaries of professionalism even further, Keroack sent the patient's daughter a creepy letter about her family responsibilities, filled with "exclamation points, all-capitalized sentences, and quotes from country singer Randy Travis," and offering the following doctorly advice: "If either of your parents were to die tomorrow … YOU and ONLY you will be responsible for the losses that will surely follow." Epistolary style sound familiar?

Of course, Keroack is contesting the charges, and has a somewhat different interpretation of the debacle. In response to the complaint, he wrote to the Mass. board of medicine, "It seems that being aware of the dynamics in a family that I have taken care of for over 12 years has somehow been interpreted to be atypical, abnormal, and a violation of boundaries. This is a sad reflection on the state of what is considered normal within today's medical care system." Yeah, and this isn't.

All told, it's been a rough few weeks for the Bush administration on the sexual and reproductive health front. State governments from the Atlantic to the Pacific are lining up to respectfully decline federal funding for abstinence-only programs that don't work, so much so that the Administration has hired the geniuses who brought us the 2004 "Swift Boat Veterans" ads to come up with a little emergency pro-abstinence-only PR. On March 29, Keroack resigned. Then, on April 2, abstinence czar Wade Horn unexpectedly followed suit, stepping down from his post as Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services (check out his record). And now, the true depth of Keroack's incompetence is beginning to be revealed.

As the outrageousness continues to pile up, part of me is baffled by the Bush administration's strategic blunder of nominating someone as obviously off-the-deep-end as Keroack to a federal post. But then again, how many sane, ethical, reputable OB/GYNs out there could pass the Bush administration's ideological purity test? I can see the job description now: "The ideal candidate will possess the professional experience necessary to head a federal agency responsible for ensuring the sexual and reproductive health of low-income women, but must also have a strong record of opposition to contraception, abortion, sexuality education, and homosexuality, and at least 10 years' experience in applying Biblical teachings in a variety of professional and policy contexts." When you cross all the candidates off the list who don't match that description, it's only natural that you wind up with guys like Keroack and W. David Hager: pseudo-professional zealots with no sense of ethics and no sense of boundaries. And they'll need more than the Swift Boat crack PR team to spin that.

P.S. I have a small bone to pick with the mainstream media's representation of the entire Keroack debacle (and though I appreciate the Globe's coverage, the latest Globe article is no exception). Fact check: Keroack's appointment was opposed by a bipartisan group of Congresspeople, editorial writers across the country, a chorus of bloggers, and tens of thousands of ordinary citizens—not just by a handful of "abortion-rights activists," as articles about him continue to uncritically repeat. Furthermore, isn't it finally time for the media to come up with a better identifier for groups like Planned Parenthood than "abortion-rights activists"? We are, after all, talking about organizations committed to providing American women from across the socioeconomic spectrum with safe, affordable birth control and quality comprehensive reproductive health care (including, but not limited to, abortion). And every time Washington takes a swipe at Title X or Medicaid, these same "abortion-rights activists" are among the only people to whom American women of reproductive age can turn to avoid winding up in a situation where abortion is their best option. Just saying.

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