This one could get campaign ending.
First, the background: Milton Wolf is challenging Kansas Senator Pat Roberts (R) in the upcoming 2014 Senate primary. Wolf, who is a radiologist and distant cousin to President Obama, has argued that Roberts isn’t conservative enough for Kansas. Wolf’s campaign was bollstered by the recent news that Roberts doesn’t even live in Kansas and is registered to vote at a home owned by two donors, while a recent poll showed Roberts favorability numbers falling.
Any momentum generated by Wolf, however, will surely be stopped by this incredible story, first broken by the Topeka Capitol-Journal. In posts on his personal Facebook page, Wolf posted the x-rays of patients, complete with comments mocking the dead and the tragedies that befell them. The comments are sure to call into question Wolf’s judgement, while also potentially raising ethical and legal questions.
As noted by the Capitol-Journal, Wolf made a series of Facebook posts that featured x-rays, all while making a series of insensitive comments. Examples include:
- X-rays of a dead man who had been shot in the temple. When asked about the awkward positioning of the man’s head by a commenter, Wolf responded, “Sheesh Melissa. It’s not like the patient was going to complain.”
- While discussing a person who had been decapitated by a gunshot wound, Wolf said, “One of my all-time favorites. From my residency days there was a pretty active ‘knife and gun club’ at Truman Medical Center. What kind of gun blows somebody’s head completely off? I’ve got to get one of those…it reminds (me) of the scene from ‘Terminator 2’ when they shoot the liquid metal terminator guy in the face at close range and it kind of splits him open temporarily almost like a flower blooming. We all find beauty in different things.”
Wolf then compounded the bad situation by walking away from an interview with the Capitol-Journal when they declined to show him specific posts. He also refused to answer whether or not he still makes such posts, saying, “I’m not going to play these kinds of gotcha games.” Games Wolf apparently is going to play: the game where he makes fun of dead people’s x-rays. That game is okay, by his rules.
Wolf, meanwhile, said that he made the posts to show “evil lurking in the world.” Yes, that’s why he made fun of people who had been shot. To show evil lurking in the world.
Wolf has said that the uploading of the x-rays were legal since personal information was redacted. Multiple individuals in the Capitol-Journal article, however, question that claim, and say that Wolf could be facing ethics violations as a result of the posts and comments.
“The dignity and privacy of the individual should be protected,” said John Carney, president of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. “It doesn’t sound like they’re being protected if they’re, obviously, on Facebook.”
Roberts’ campaign, naturally, attacked Wolf for the pictures and comments, calling them “unthinkable.” The National Republican Senate Committee accused Wolf of engaging in “freakish behavior.” Wolf’s response? A Saturday statement in which he said that Roberts’ was launching an attack on his character that, “…will not only target me, but will, through its implications, cast a wider net to vilify all doctors.” By Sunday, however, Wolf had changed his tune and released a more apologetic statement:
Several years ago I made some comments about these images that were insensitive to the seriousness of what the images revealed. Soon thereafter, I removed those images and comments, again several years ago. For them to be published in a much more public context now, by a political adversary who would rather declare war on doctors than answer serious questions that Kansans have, is truly sad. However, my mistakes are my own and I take full responsibility for them.
I don’t even know how to conclude this. Obviously this is a judgement failure of epic proportions. Put it this way: would you ever want your x-ray taken by this doctor? You never say things like this if you are in a position in which trust and confidentiality is required. Speaking of confidentiality: never, ever break someone’s trust like this, so publicly.
UPDATE (2/13, 7:10): Invisible Mikey makes an accurate clarification: Just to clarify, Radiologists never take x-rays. They only interpret images acquired by Radiologic Technologists, acting under the orders of other physicians or licensed providers. (I’m a Rad Tech.)