An odd public letter posted on the Alberta Medical Association website by its president, Patrick White, implies that Raj Sherman, a medical doctor and MLA kicked out of the government caucus last month, suffers from mental instability. At best, the letter is an example of bad judgment. At worst, it reflects a political climate verging on panic over a health-care controversy that mutates each week.
Responding to Dr. Sherman's claim that a "whispering campaign" suggests he is mentally unstable, Dr. White, a psychiatrist, insinuates that the whispers are true, and that people are concerned for him, out of friendship. "Yesterday I received a telephone call from Mr. Horne [Fred Horne, a Tory MLA] who expressed concerns about Dr. Sherman's well-being," says the letter from Dr. White, a psychiatrist. "Based on my conversation with Mr. Horne, I telephoned three emergency physicians whom I know to be not only colleagues but also friends of Dr. Sherman, and I asked them if they could look out for him."
Dr. White seems oblivious to the possibility that publishing information about the mental state of an allegedly mentally ill person may aggravate that person's problems. If his insinuation has substance, his letter is a violation of privacy. If false, it damages Dr. Sherman's reputation unfairly. Some contend that comments about Dr. Sherman's mental state are an attempt to besmirch the reputation of an otherwise credible government critic.
Briefly, the background: Dr. Sherman, who was parliamentary assistant for health, and who still works part-time in an Edmonton emergency ward, was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus for public criticism of emergency-room crowding. He then continued his public criticism. Separately, an indication of the climate of panic is that the president of the provincewide health board, Stephen Duckett, was fired after a video of him refusing to speak to reporters because he was eating a cookie was widely viewed on the Internet. The board is ostensibly independent. Four members of the board that fired him subsequently announced their resignations, an indication they felt political pressure had been brought to bear.
Nearly 60 AMA members have contacted Dr. White about his letter, he says in an online bulletin. Many are angry with him. He called Dr. Sherman and hints that he apologized.
He should apologize. Publicly.