Can my friend take legal action against this doctor?

My friend who is on methadone maintenance went to a general practice doctor through her health insurance. She wanted to get alternative solutions to her current treatment, to help alleviate her from the physical addictions of narcotics.

The doctor is a Carribean immigrant, so he may have been ignorant of certain American laws, but he did the unspeakable - told her she needed God in her life and gave her a Bible and referrals to religious counseling services.

Can she take legal action?

Headcoat, what law do you think this doctor violated?

It was unprofessional, to be sure, but “unspeakable?” That’s a slight exaggeration, wouldn’t you say?

Tell her to try a different doctor.

Hmm, so I’m guessing its kosher for doctors to use religion in treating patients?

I figured there would be laws concerning this, but that was only an assumption.

Are you by any chance a Caribbean immigrant? I understand they’re notoriously ignorant of American laws.

IANAL, but I’d assume the doctor’s practice is not a government institution, so I’m not sure a separation of church and state issue is present. Opiate addiction is seen by many as having a large psychological component. And, to some, a relationship with their deity, they feel, is of great help in dealing with psychological issues.

I’ll reiterate, IANAL, but my layman’s appreciation of the current state of Constitutional law doesn’t alert me to any legal violations by the doctor in question in giving what he thought to be his best advice. I wouldn’t want to use him, and I doubt his advice is AMA doctrine. I just don’t see the legal issue.

BTW, I’m not agnostic - I’m atheist.

I don’t think it’s illegal.

If you can complain to anyone, it would be the Medical Board of your state.


What kind of legal action was she contemplating? Why?

[Rant] Yes, please have your friend file a huge malpractice suit against this doctor so that the insurance rates for the rest of us can continue through the roof. [/Rant]

Sorry about that, but there’s something definitely wrong when the first inclination someone has when they feel offended is to sue someone.

As Ringo mentioned, it may have been a sincere, if somewhat misguided, attempt at fostering a psychological environment. It’s fairly common in 12 step programs to encourage an addict to turn toward he benevolence of a diety to help them through the tough times.

If, on the other hand, I showed up at this doctor’s office with a broken arm with the bone sticking out of my skin, and he handed me a bible instead of sending me over to x-ray, then I would certainly report him to the licencing board.

This is really kind of interesting. Your friend goes to the doctor and says "I want some sort of ‘alternative treatment’ for my problem, and he says “well,maybe religion can help.” Then she wants to sue? I mean…what do you mean by ‘alternative’ solutions? I would say he’s a decent doctor just for not saying “buy a supplement with a gazillion herbs inside and that should help.” Was she expecting acupuncture or something?

From a legal stand point, you can’t sue unless some harm was done, and I don’t think ‘the bible’ has serious negative side effects.

"Buy the bible today and solve all your drug addictions today! …

(super fast talking guy)- may cause vomiting, sleep loss, hair discoloration, dimensia, laziness, chills, fever, acute color blindness, birth defects, and severe sexual side effects"


I’m not religious, but I don’t see that the doctor did an “unspeakable” thing here. The patient was seeking alternatives to drugs. Many groups which help those with addiction, including Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous certainly have an evangelical component which benefits some people. That said, this would not be advice that I would ever personally give. I doubt a court case would succeed – what grounds did you envision?

By “alternative”, I meant buprenorphine treatment to wean off the methadone (methadone is impossible to kick “cold turkey”, unlike heroin). She asked for that specifically, and when he refused, she asked for alternative pharmaceutical solutions that would yield similar effects. He offered none, and instead, chose to judge her, her lifestyle choices, and her character.

She did not go seeking salvation from drugs. She went to see what her options were in abandoning methadone treatment.
She didn’t make a huge deal out of it, but I did upon finding out. It just seemed so unethical for a doctor to do that in a professional setting.

The only questionable thing that the doctor did (from what I see in your original statement) is perhaps try to force or impose a religion or belief onto your friend.

It may seem unprofessional to some people, but what’s the legal stance? What law did this doctor break?

In answer to the original question, yes she can. In this country you can sue anybody you wish for any reason, real or imagined.

So to review:

Carribbean doctor breaks out Bible for medical treatment – OK.
What if the doctor were from Haiti and sacrificed a chicken? Still OK?

Or is the fact that the “treatment” in question is of Judeo-Christian origin what makes it “harmless” and acceptable?

Uh, no. There are a lot of physicians who practice “traditional” medicine from different cultures. There are Asian doctors who practice acupuncture and herbalism, and I’m sure there are Haitian physicians who practice voodoo.

Whether Blue Shield pays for this, I dunno. :wink: But it does happen.


Not professional.
Not particularly ethical.
But really, come on, what your friend wants is to report him to his professional body, so that they can send someone round to slap his wrists and give him some counselling on how to treat people in her situation with more tact.
Not a million daollar lawsuit or a jail term, right?

Why doesn’t she write him a letter telling him that she found his approach unhelpful and judgemental, and that she expects a written apology, or she will report him to the relevant body?

Wouldn’t that be more productive?