Regulatory policy

Anti-pandemic policy talks about the city

A mobile COVID-19 testing unit waits for people to be tested while pedestrians make their way onto the sidewalk. Reuters

Michael Hiltzik, Tribune press service

Painfully aware of how attacks on COVID vaccines and anti-pandemic policies have undermined public health, California enacted a law this year that makes the spread of medical misinformation and misinformation about the motives of the pandemic to revoke a doctor’s license.

Unsurprisingly, the anti-vaccination and downplaying COVID crowds have taken up arms against the law, known as AB 2098 and which is set to come into effect on January 1.

The law explicitly states that “spreading false information or misinformation” related to COVID-19 or COVID vaccines is considered unprofessional conduct. This subjects such conduct to the discipline of the California Medical Board, up to and including revocation of the license.

So far, two lawsuits challenging the law have been filed in federal courts in California.

Plaintiffs in these cases describe them as direct efforts to protect their right to free speech, but make no mistake. Their legal representation is provided by organizations linked to right-wing foundations such as the Koch network.

One is the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, which represents two doctors who sued the Los Angeles federal court medical board on Oct. 4 to block enforcement.

The other is the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a right-wing organization

litigation factory that sued the medical board and Governor Gavin Newsom in federal court in Sacramento on behalf of five California doctors on November 1.

Both lawsuits seek to have the law declared unconstitutional as a violation of the 1st Amendment.

Other lawsuits filed by the Liberty Justice Center include cases challenging mail-in voting rules in New York, collective bargaining rights for public employees in Illinois and campaign finance disclosure requirements in Alaska.

Among the initiatives of the New Civil Liberties Alliance are lawsuits challenging the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan, its COVID vaccination mandates for federal employees and federal contractors, and the constitutionality of Consumer Financial Protection. Bureau, which sued payday lenders and other allegedly abusive financial agents. service companies.

The lawsuits regarding AB 2098 fit these patterns very well.

Their target is a law that aims to protect patients from medical charlatans by giving the medical board more explicit authority to curb them. Who would be the victims if the law were overturned? Patients likely to be misled by doctors they trust is who.

The legal attack on AB 2098 has been adopted by the anti-vaccination organization Children’s Health Defense, which is led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a known vaccine denier and conspiracy promoter. Kennedy was ranked second among the “disinformation dozen” accused last year by the Center for Countering Digital Hate of playing a leading role in “spreading digital misinformation about Covid vaccines.”

In response to the Los Angeles lawsuit, California Attorney General Rob Bonta argued that AB 2098 fell within an exception to the Supreme Court’s 1st Amendment freedom of speech guarantee. In several decisions, the Court has authorized states to “regulate professional conduct, even if that conduct incidentally involves speaking.” Bonta has yet to file a response in the Sacramento case.

The war on health care regulators predates the COVID pandemic. A good example is the right to try movement, which was a cruel deception perpetrated on people with intractable fatal diseases, posing as a compassionate path to experimental treatments for these patients.

Several states have passed right-to-try laws, and a federal version was signed by President Donald Trump in May 2018 as a concession to right-wing interests, including the Koch brothers’ network.

In fact, the movement’s goal was to emasculate the Food and Drug Administration, thereby undermining public health and harming all patients by allowing untested treatments into the wild.

Among the key proponents of the federal law was Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who eventually admitted his goal was to “diminish the FDA’s power over people’s lives.” Never mind that the FDA’s statutory responsibility is to keep harmful remedies off the market.

Interestingly, Senator Johnson surfaced in September as a critic of California’s disinformation law by co-authoring a Fox News op-ed that called the law “a hostile takeover of medicine by oppressive censors.” of the government”.

Johnson’s co-author was Pierre Kory, a doctor who promoted the antiparasitic drug ivermectin as a COVID treatment despite careful scientific studies showing it has “no effect” on the viral disease.

Johnson and Kory’s presence in the chorus of critics completes the attack on California law: it’s part of the move to undermine medical authority by making science-based medical regulation appear politicized. This movement has reached unprecedented levels of vehemence in the wake of the pandemic.

The problem of licensed doctors spreading misinformation about COVID and vaccines has become so acute that it prompted the Federation of State Medical Boards last year to warn medical professionals that it could put their licenses in jeopardy. danger. California is unusual in making this threat explicit.

The main contention of the California lawsuits is that the law’s definition of “misinformation or misinformation related to COVID-19” is so ambiguous that it cannot support a finding of “malpractice.”

The law, however, is not so vague. It targets “false or misleading information about the nature and risks of the virus, its prevention and treatment; and the development, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

The law defines misinformation as “false information that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.”

Plaintiffs in both lawsuits argue that “scientific consensus” is a moving target, particularly with respect to COVID-19, many aspects of which are still under investigation.

Since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, observes Aaron Kheriaty, a former UC Irvine medical ethics expert and one of the plaintiffs in the Los Angeles case, “public health recommendations and “consensus “about COVID changed frequently as new information became available.”

These include “changing guidelines on patient ventilation, the use of high-dose steroids in hospitalized patients, and the identification of previously unknown or overlooked safety issues with certain new antiviral therapies,” he said. Kheriaty. “As with the rest of medical science, yesterday’s minority opinion often becomes today’s standard of care.”

Yet, clearly, it is not the recommendations and guidelines that are the subject of professional discussion and dispute that are the focus of the law. Rather, it is the continuous dissemination of information known to be false.