MOUNT DORA, FL. — A doctor who considers the national health-care overhaul to be bad medicine for the country posted a sign on his office door telling patients who voted for President Barack Obama to seek care “elsewhere.”
“I’m not turning anybody away — that would be unethical,” Dr. Jack Cassell, 56, a Mount Dora urologist and a registered Republican opposed to the health plan, told the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday. “But if they read the sign and turn the other way, so be it.”
The sign reads: “If you voted for Obama … seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your healthcare begin right now, not in four years.”
Estella Chatman, 67, of Eustis, whose daughter snapped a photo of the typewritten sign, sent the picture to U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, the Orlando Democrat who riled Republicans last year when he characterized the GOP’s idea of health care as, “If you get sick, America … Die quickly.”
Chatman said she heard about the sign from a friend referred to Cassell after his physician recently died. She said her friend did not want to speak to a reporter but was dismayed by Cassell’s sign.
“He’s going to find another doctor,” she said.
Cassell may be walking a thin line between his right to free speech and his professional obligation, said William Allen, professor of bioethics, law and medical professionalism at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.
Allen said doctors cannot refuse patients on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability, but political preference is not one of the legally protected categories specified in civil-rights law. By insisting he does not quiz his patients about their politics and has not turned away patients based on their vote, the doctor is “trying to hold onto the nub of his ethical obligation,” Allen said.
“But this is pushing the limit,” he said.
Cassell, who has practiced medicine in GOP-dominated Lake County since 1988, said he doesn’t quiz his patients about their politics, but he also won’t hide his disdain for the bill Obama signed and the lawmakers who passed it.
In his waiting room, Cassell also has provided his patients with photocopies of a health-care timeline produced by Republican leaders that outlines “major provisions” in the health-care package. The doctor put a sign above the stack of copies that reads: “This is what the morons in Washington have done to your health care. Take one, read it and vote out anyone who voted for it.”
Cassell, whose lawyer wife, Leslie Campione, has declared herself a Republican candidate for Lake County commissioner, said three patients have complained, but most have been “overwhelmingly supportive” of his position.
“They know it’s not good for them,” he said.
Cassell, who previously served as chief of surgery at Florida Hospital Waterman in Tavares, said a patient’s politics would not affect his care for them, although he said he would prefer not to treat people who support the president.
“I can at least make a point,” he said.
The notice on Cassell’s office door could cause some patients to question his judgment or fret about the care they might receive if they don’t share his political views, Allen said. He said doctors are wise to avoid public expressions that can affect the physician-patient relationship.
Erin VanSickle, spokeswoman for the Florida Medical Association, would not comment specifically.
But she noted in an e-mail to the Sentinel that “physicians are extended the same rights to free speech as every other citizen in the United States.”
The outspoken Grayson described Cassell’s sign as “ridiculous.”
“I’m disgusted,” he said. “Maybe he thinks the Hippocratic Oath says, ‘Do no good.’ If this is the face of the right wing in America, it’s the face of cruelty. … Why don’t they change the name of the Republican Party to the Sore Loser Party?”