Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed four bills into law on May 11 designed to protect Floridians from medical mandates, empower doctors, and prohibit gain-of-function research.
Responding to the nation’s traumatic experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and embracing the concept of “medical freedom,” the landmark legislation “safeguards residents’ freedoms by ensuring that no patient is forced by a business, school, or government entity to undergo testing, wear a mask, or be vaccinated for COVID-19,” states a press release from the governor’s office.
“Our early actions during the pandemic protected Floridians and their freedoms,” DeSantis said. “We protected the rights of Floridians to make decisions for themselves and their children and rejected COVID theater, narratives, and hysteria in favor of truth and data. These expanded protections will help ensure that medical authoritarianism does not take root in Florida.”
Ends Public Health Overreach
Senate Bill 252, titled “Most Comprehensive Medical Freedom Bill in the Nation,” prohibits businesses and government from requiring proof of vaccination or recovery from any disease to gain access or receive service.
Employers are prohibited from refusing employment to a job candidate, or firing, disciplining or demoting a current employee based on vaccine or immunity status. The bill outlaws discrimination against any Florida resident based on COVID-19 vaccination or immunity.
House Bill 1387 bans research designed to boost the virility of pathogens, called “gain of function” research. Senate Bill 238 deals with public records access to protect individuals from discrimination based on health care choices
Senate Bill 1580 protects physician freedom of speech. Specifically, it allows health care providers and payers to opt out of participation or payment for certain health care services based on conscience objections. It sets up requirements to provide notification of such objections, protects provider and payer whistleblowers and stops state medical boards or the Florida Department of Health from taking disciplinary action against a professional’s license for specified conduct.
COVID-19’s ‘Silver Lining’
Marilyn M. Singleton, M.D, J.D., a California-based physician, welcomes the steps Florida is taking, particularly the legal protections afforded to doctors who speak out on medical issues.
“COVID’s silver lining was that our eyes were opened to the fact that decisions of big-government experts are neither always right nor in the best interest of the people,” said Singleton. “Whether out of ignorance or malice, the federal government is so entrenched in its bureaucracy that it cannot see its failures. The great advantage of our constitutional form of government is that the states can govern their own people consistent with their values.”
The bills give physicians the freedom to treat patients ethically, says Singleton.
“The federal government gutted its medical conscience protections where physicians practice medicine with the fear of Big Brother as their co-pilot,” said Singleton. “Senate Bill 1580 gives physicians the freedom to ethically treat their patients using their broad-based knowledge and according to their conscience. This is a win for patients as well as for physicians regardless of their political affiliation.”
Do No Harm
Matt Dean, a senior fellow for health care policy outreach at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, is not surprised that a state like Florida has enacted such far-reaching legislation.
“Patients and doctors are moving to places like Florida because they want the freedom to treat and be treated without the heavy hand of government getting in the way,” said Dean.
“The doctor-patient relationship is a sacred trust bound by confidentiality and an oath taken by the physician to always put the interest of the patient first,” said Dean. “At the heart of the doctor-patient relationship is consent, but doctors are more and more being put into a position where the government is overruling the decision to provide, or not to provide treatment.”
Conversely, some want doctors to render whatever services patients demand, regardless of ethical considerations, says Dean.
“Patients are being told in some instances that they can define and demand care from a physician who believes he or she cannot perform because it violates a personal conviction or an oath to ‘first of all, do no harm,’” said Dean. “States like Florida are moving in the opposite direction to provide more protections for the doctor-patient relationship, and that’s a good thing.”
Protecting Medical Licenses
Florida was the state where one of two cases involving physician freedom of practice gained national attention.
Police removed John Littell, M.D. from a Sarasota Memorial Hospital board meeting in March after discussing Ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19. In Minnesota, Scott Jensen, M.D. has fended off multiple attacks on his medical license after he spoke publicly about pandemic financial incentives to list COVID-19 as a cause of death of patients and placing patients with positive COVID-19 tests on ventilators.
Free Speech For Physicians
“A physician should not risk his medical license for treating a patient with the most appropriate therapy that is legal, safe, and effective,” said Dean. “Legislation designed to protect the free speech and professional discretion of doctors to treat patients will benefit public health, and get politics out of the equation,” said Dean. “Now doctors face retribution from some state medical boards and attorneys general if they prescribe or even share certain views on public health.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic led to state-sponsored restrictions on constitutionally protected freedoms (such as the freedom of speech and assembly) and showed how quickly these freedoms could be taken,” said Dean.
Bonner Russell Cohen, Ph. D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
See Florida Impanels Grand Jury to Investigate COVID-19 Shots, January 5, 2023.