Doctors file lawsuit to block California’s COVID misinformation law

Doctors file lawsuit to block California's COVID misinformation law
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As an emergency physician at Stanford and Mills-Peninsula hospitals who treated hundreds of COVID-19 patients, Dr. Ram Duriseti recalled resisting a treatment strategy in effect at the start of the pandemic of rushing the sickest patients onto ventilators not only to help them breathe, but to reduce the spread of the virus.

The medical world has since moved away from such aggressive use of ventilators, Duriseti said, but he fears that in the near future his professional instinct could cost him his medical license under a new California law signed by the Governor Gavin Newsom at the end of September. Scheduled to come into force next year, it prohibits doctors from spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

Duriseti joined four other California doctors in filing a federal lawsuit against Newsom and the state medical board, arguing that the law violates doctors’ constitutional First Amendment freedom of speech and procedural rights. Fourteenth Amendment Regular.

“It is rare for a state legislature to pass such a patently unconstitutional bill,” the complaint states. “Even more rarely does a governor sign this bill.”

It’s unclear how the new law might impact physicians’ bedside decisions at crucial moments of care. At the height of the pandemic, the medical community and public health experts sounded the alarm as misinformation about vaccines and treatments proliferated on the internet, polarizing the public and peddling discredited remedies like hydroxychloroquine to cancer deniers. COVID.

The law’s author, Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit last week. He told fellow lawmakers this year that the bill was “crucial in addressing the amplification of misinformation and misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Licensed physicians, physicians and surgeons enjoy a high degree of public trust and therefore should be held accountable for the information they disseminate,” Low said in comments to the State Assembly about his bill, AB 2098, co-sponsored by California Medical. Association. “Providing patients with accurate, science-based information about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccinations is imperative to protect public health.”

Newsom, in signing the bill, said he understood concerns about the “chilling effect” it “could have on doctors and surgeons who need to be able to speak effectively to their patients about the risks and benefits of treatments for a disease that emerged in only the last few years.”

But the governor added that he was confident it was “narrowly designed to apply only to egregious cases in which a licensee is acting with malicious intent or clearly departing from the required standard of care while interacting directly with a patient he is caring for”.

Jenin Younes, an attorney with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization that is handling the lawsuit on behalf of the doctors, said the governor’s thoughts carried no legal weight and the law would be interpreted solely on the basis of its language, which the complaint is too vague and invites abuse.

“When you’re afraid to speak up because you think you might be punished for it, it can lead people to self-censor,” Younes said. “The scientific consensus is not defined. This means doctors will be afraid to say things the law wasn’t even supposed to include.

The ACLU of Northern California called on the courts last week to block the law, arguing that it “does not strike the right balance between free speech and patient safety.”

Complainant physicians have been vocal in the debate over pandemic health policy, publicly pushing back on school guidelines and mandates. Duriseti and Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg are affiliated with the “Emergency of Normal” group, which in June urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recall school boards to minimize quarantine disruptions and end vaccination mandates.

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty is a private practitioner who testified on COVID policy before a Senate panel in January. Dr. Pete Mazolewski is a trauma surgeon at John Muir Health who said his approach of delaying immediate removal of an inflamed appendix in favor of antibiotic therapy has since become standard.

And Dr. Azadeh Khatibi is a Los Angeles doctor who said she owed her life to a doctor who was willing to reject the medical consensus regarding her own diagnosis of an unspecified fatal disease for which she was only 25 % chance of surviving. another five years. At the time, she said, the standard of care was to avoid aggressive treatment, but she followed a doctor’s advice to the contrary and made a remarkable recovery.

“If my doctor’s speech had been chilled to only advise and offer ‘consensus’ treatments, I might not be alive today,” Khatibi said in a statement to the court.

Several doctors said they were threatened on social media that they would be reported to the state medical board as soon as the law takes effect. The lawsuit notes posts by a Phoenix pediatrician, Chris Hickie, who called the doctors “quacks.”

Hickie argued this week in a brief interview that the prosecuting doctors “all deserve to lose their license” and said “I hope their lawsuit gets thrown out.”

He is part of a group of ‘No license for misinformation’ doctors who have called for the licensing of doctors they say have promoted fringe theories and frustrated the public health fight against the virus.

California Daily Newspapers

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