A bill that would allow state medical regulators to discipline doctors who don’t toe the COVID-19 line advanced in the California legislature Monday.
According to the Washington Examiner, the bill — AB 2098 — would give the Medical Board of California and the Osteopathic Medical Board of California the authority to suspend or revoke a doctor’s state license for spreading disinformation or misinformation related to the novel coronavirus.
“The spread of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has weakened public confidence and placed lives at serious risk,” the bill reads. “Major news outlets have reported that some of the most dangerous propagators of inaccurate information regarding the COVID-19 vaccines are licensed health care professionals.”
The bill defines “misinformation” as “false information that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.” “Disinformation” is defined as misinformation provided with “malicious intent or an intent to mislead.”
“Due to their specialized knowledge and training, licensed physicians possess a high degree of public trust and therefore must be held to account,” California state Assemblymember Evan Low, a Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, said.
If passed, California’s bill would be the first to take aim at COVID-19-related speech from physicians and could serve as a template for other states, according to the Examiner.
The Board of Directors of the Federation of State Medical Boards said last year that licensed medical providers have an “ethical and professional responsibility” to share information that is “factual, scientifically grounded and consensus-driven for the betterment of public health.”
“Spreading inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine information contradicts that responsibility, threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk,” the organization said in a statement at the time.
The measure has been criticized by some who maintain it would violate doctors’ First Amendment rights.
“The Constitution simply doesn’t allow that broad infringement on speech, even if the speech is false,” a speaker who identified herself as a civil rights attorney told the state Assembly. “It would discourage conscientious doctors from expressing themselves freely about a topic that is fraught with uncertainty due to its novelty.”
Calling the bill “irreparably vague,” the educational nonprofit Physicians for Informed Consent filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the Medical Board of California. The group claims that the board is improperly weaponizing the term “misinformation” to censor and punish doctors who “publicly disagree with the government’s ever-evolving, erratic and contradictory public health COVID-19 edicts.”
The group pointed out that what is known about the virus and recommendations have changed since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
The legislation will next head back to the state Assembly to approve the state Senate’s amendments before moving to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature.
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