OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A tea party-backed Kansas radiologist who is trying to unseat longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts has apologized for posting X-ray photos of fatal gunshot wounds and medical injuries on his personal Facebook page several years ago, but he called the revelation about the images the work of a desperate incumbent.
In addition to the images, Milton Wolf also participated in online commentary layered with macabre jokes and descriptions of carnage, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
The report about the images, which came from hospitals in the Kansas City area on both sides of the state line, drew criticism from medical professionals around the region who called their display on social media irresponsible.
"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."
Carney said the summary of Wolf's postings provided to him would be widely viewed as "beyond alarming for a professional in the field of medicine."
In an interview, Wolf told the newspaper he received permission from patients when required before making use of records or images. He claimed usage, including Facebook posts, that didn't reveal an individual's identity didn't require prior authorization.
In a statement issued over the weekend, the Johnson County Republican asked for forgiveness from anyone who was offended by the images.
He also assailed Roberts for waging a war on doctors by telling people about them. The Capital-Journal's report did not say how the newspaper obtained the photos.
"Several years ago I made some comments about these images that were insensitive to the seriousness of what the images revealed," Wolf said. "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."
A news release by Wolf's campaign accused Roberts of participating in a misleading character attack in what it called "the most desperate move of any campaign in recent history."
He said the medical images — including an X-ray of a man decapitated by gunfire — were uploaded to social media sites and other online venues for educational purposes and that they also served to demonstrate the evil lurking in the world.
But an array of professionals involved in medical ethics condemned his airing of the information outside the confines of a doctor-to-doctor consultation, or for the purpose of formal medical research or textbook construction.
Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo., where Wolf obtained the decapitation X-ray, said Friday it wouldn't have granted Wolf permission to use images of a shooting victim in that manner.
Officials at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, which is linked to X-rays on the Internet depicting a person embedded with shotgun pellets and marked as property of TheWolfFile.com, said Wolf had pledged to request removal of the X-rays from a California political website.
But Mallory Laur, a marketing specialist for the center, said the X-rays on the site weren't a violation of federal medical privacy law.
"De-identified health care images are often used for education and other purposes," she said.
Leroy Towns, a spokesman for Roberts, said the news about Wolf's Facebook interactions has raised questions about the doctor's legal and professional responsibilities to protect the privacy of patient medical information.
"For any doctor to make patient records public and then use the records for public discussion and entertainment is just unthinkable," Towns said. "Allegations of such lack of judgment demand extensive scrutiny and investigation."