California's Dangerous Strides To Criminalize Medical Disagreement
(Sun Fanyue/Xinhua via AP)
California's Dangerous Strides To Criminalize Medical Disagreement
(Sun Fanyue/Xinhua via AP)
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Dr. Anthony Fauci is in legacy mode, eager to frame his actions over the last two years in the best possible light. While he denies ever having mislead the American public, he has acknowledged mistakes were made along the way. Yet no one is talking about putting him jail.

Not so in California, where with a stroke of Governor Gavin Newsom’s pen, bureaucrats at the Medical Board of California have the power to strip the licenses of medical professionals who dare question state-sponsored speech regarding Covid-19. In other words, a doctor who spreads so-called “misinformation” can lose their livelihood. I’ve written previously on the dangers of this concept, but now that it is a reality, here are five consequences of this Orwellian approach. 

First, while Newsom stressed his purported concern about the law’s “chilling effect,” there is no guarantee lawmakers will not extend the concept to other controversial health topics. Consensus is not static. It is always evolving in disease models as doctors seek to improve outcomes by deep reading of literature and trialing new therapies and approaches. For example, many physicians innovate by using different combinations of medicines, which are rarely studied in large randomized controlled trials but can prove more effective than single therapy “standard of care” in a clinical setting. Under the new law, a doctor employing a well-thought out combination of synergistic therapies may be penalized for not strictly following the standard of care.

Second, the law stifles innovation and prevents life-saving treatment from seeing the light of day because doctors are wary of retribution. The pharmaceutical industry receives the lion’s share of credit for discovering new treatments, but the unsung heroes are the enterprising doctors often funded by government grants burning the midnight oil in a lab to spot trends and achieve breakthroughs. For example, California’s law prohibits “off-label prescribing,” a common practice of prescribing medicine to treat conditions beyond their explicit approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Independent data shows up to 20 percent of all medications are prescribed off-label, as there are thousands of approved drugs with well-defined mechanisms that apply to many different disease models. 

Through clinical observation and knowledge of mechanisms and pathophysiology, there are literally thousands of existing drugs that could be re-purposed to treat cancer. The solution does not need to require a costly new pill and a battery of tests by the pharmaceutical industry. But not anymore in California, where a doctor who tries to talk about treating cancer with repurposed drugs will face career-ending consequences.

Third, the law will further extend its long tentacles into the field of medical education where the existing conformity will be even more reinforced, and curiosity will take a back seat. Instead of employing independent critical thinking, doctors will wait for the directives of “experts.” By following orders, rather than challenging orthodoxy with experiments and trials, young doctors will never become experts, nor will they discover new and better ways of treating patients that improve on existing standards of care. Patient care should be the primary consideration of a doctor, not strict adherence to the status quo. 

Fourth, the law smothers the free speech principles foundational to our country. Cancel culture is already running amok, and now the largest state in the union has the power to censor doctors. It drags the medical profession further into the sewer of the political arena. The Covid pandemic has exacerbated polarization in political conversations. Those who dare offer a different point of view from the prevailing wisdom find themselves isolated, marginalized, blocked, or treated as pariahs. It’s bad enough that President Biden is preparing to fire an unvaccinated Coast Guard rescue swimmer who demonstrated heroism during Hurricane Ian rescue efforts. Now Gavin Newsom’s bureaucrats can eliminate doctors’ livelihoods as they please. 

Finally, California’s law may be the first-of-its-kind in America, but it won’t be the last. The domino effect is already playing out across other fields. Last month, California announced a ban on gas-powered cars by 2035. This week, New York followed suit, meaning one-fifth of Americans will soon be driving an electric car. A similar trend is playing out on the international stage. In Canada, authorities in British Columbia are discussing ways of stifling misinformation. Ditto in Australia, where a bill before the Queensland Parliament would force doctors to follow government policy, regardless of their own judgment or countervailing evidence.

Beyond the chilling precedent, the opportunities for corruption are limitless when “consensus” is determined by a select group of individuals. Whoever controls the California State Medical Board has immense market power with huge financial ramifications. Besides, the record of government empowered health officials during the pandemic leaves much to be desired. From masks to vaccines to lockdowns, very few directives since March 2020 have aged well over time. 

Stifling innovation and shutting down speech is never a wise course of action, yet that is the route California has opted to take. As this concept takes hold, the losers are not just the outside-the-box thinkers advancing science – it’s the patients who stand to benefit from their discoveries.

Pierre Kory, MD, is president and chief medical officer of the Front-Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance.

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