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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When Do Doctors Have the Right to Speak?

Room for Debate
The New York Times
Updated August 22, 2014

Here are two great questions to debate in any ethics class, from the New York Times.

Two federal appellate court decisions, one allowing Florida to prevent doctors from discussing gun safety with patients, the other letting California ban “gay-conversion” therapy, raise questions about health professionals’ First Amendment rights.

Do occupational-licensing laws trump the First Amendment? What limits, if any, does the First Amendment impose on government’s ability to restrict advice?

Here is one response:

As a physician, it is important to remember the guiding principle of medicine: "first, do no harm." Barring physicians from discussing whether or not lethal weapons exist in the home is wrong. It is well understood that the simple presence of a firearm in the home is associated with a greater risk of bodily harm - either to oneself or any children in the home. Asking about weapons is a usual (standard and accepted) practice as part of the screening assessment for depression; since those with easy access to a firearm and who have suicidal thoughts are significantly more likely to harm themselves. Here, the physician's role is simple: protect human life. Contrast this to the ban on "gay-conversion," therapy, which has been scientifically proven to have more harm than benefit to the individual. In both cases, the tenet being upheld here is to "first, do no harm." It is tragically ironic that those who are often supporting both of these causes are one usually crying to "get the government out of my healthcare," yet they seem perfectly willing to impede the practice of good medicine when it is politically expedient. I can only hope that those supporting the "opposite" views from those expressed here will have a caring physician him/herself that will ignore these political debates in order to provide care that is in the best interest of the patient.