Friday, July 6, 2012

Judge Says Doctors Can't Be Barred From Discussing Guns

Florida physicians will again be able to ask their patients about the presence of guns in their homes now that a federal judge has ruled illegal a state law barring physicians from discussing the subject. Judge Marcia Cooke said the law violates the freedom-of-speech protections in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Florida Psychiatric Society and other physician organizations challenged the law, which was introduced by gun advocates in the state legislature who claimed that asking patients about gun possession violated the Second Amendment protection of the right to bear arms. The law made such discussions a felony and passed by a wide margin in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Psychiatrists and others argued that asking patients about the presence of guns in their homes would help them evaluate whether patients might pose a danger to themselves or the community and that such discussions would go a long way toward preventing suicides. They maintained as well that the law illegally infringed on the doctor-patient relationship by interfering with their ability to provide the medical care their patients might require. Cooke said in her ruling that censoring what physicians could talk about during medical visits has had a "chilling" effect on medical care. "What is curious about this law," she said, "is that it aims to restrict a practitioner's ability to provide truthful, nonmisleading information to a patient, whether relevant or not at the time of the consult with the patient." The Florida Department of Health hasn't announced whether it will appeal the ruling.

To read more about this law and the fight to undo it, see Psychiatric News here and here.

(image: Guy J. Sagi/


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