Thursday, November 8, 2012

Florida Law Violates M.D.s' Free-Speech Rights, APA Tells Court

APA has joined the AMA and several medical specialty societies in an amicus brief urging a Florida appeals court to uphold a lower court's ruling that a law barring physicians from discussing gun ownership with their patients is an unconstitutional violation of First Amendment rights to free speech. The Florida law at issue, the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, prohibits physicians from asking adult patients, or family members of pediatric patients, about the presence of guns in the home unless the physician can identify an immediate danger to the health and safety of the patient or family. This law, the medical groups argue, "prevents physicians from communicating with their patients so as to provide medical care under the accepted standards of the medical profession. Not only do physicians lose the right to express themselves freely, but their patients are deprived of the full range of medical care and professionalism that they should and do expect from their physicians." The physicians point out that "firearm-related deaths are one of the top three causes of death in American youth," and physicians "play a key role in educating parents about the risks associated with possession of firearms in homes with children." Violations of the law can result in revocation of a physician's license.

The brief also emphasizes that the law's ban on entering gun-related information into the medical record "prevents physicians from taking a routine precaution that might enhance their defense against charges of medical malpractice," thus prohibiting "conduct that would otherwise be lawful." In addition, the law does not indicate that its goal is to protect patients' health, the groups state. "Rather it is a ploy to accommodate the concerns of Floridians who fear exposure to speech that will offend their notions of political correctness; concerns that fall outside the purview of legal protection."

The full amicus brief is posted here. Read coverage about the Florida gag law in Psychiatric News here and here.

(image:Guy J. Sagi/


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