According to an annual healthcare poll by Gallup, 38% of Americans said that they put off medical treatment in 2022 due to the inflating costs of treatment. With the majority hoping to seek medical assistance until they absolutely need it, some might avoid medical treatment altogether due to Florida’s new controversial legislation.
On May 11, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed four bills that, according to him, would protect Floridians from medical mandates such as the vaccines and mask regulations that were in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bills will go into effect on July 1, 2023.
In a press release, DeSantis stated that the collection of bills that he signed where the strongest legislation in the US for medical freedom. He added that the bills were created with the Floridian's medical rights in mind which he claimed were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“These expanded protections will help ensure that medical authoritarianism does not take root in Florida,” DeSantis said.
He added that the protections would make sure that any gain of “function research” would be prohibited to Floridans.
In the statement, State Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said that DeSantis’s approval of the package would progress one’s rights in medical decisions.
According to the press release, Florida’s State Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo stated that the governor’s approval of the legislative package would empower the rights of residents when it comes to medical decisions.
“Florida continues to enshrine individual liberty and lead with common sense,” Ladapo said, adding that the state's focus is to empower patients and provider more precautions for students in schools.
The legislature package was signed within days of two other controversial laws that were signed into effect. A tougher immigration law was signed on May 10, enabling harsher penalties for knowingly hiring or transporting undocumented individuals in the state and E-verify employment screenings for businesses with 25 or more employees; and a bill that would prohibit Florida colleges and universities from using their funding on diversity and inclusions that was signed on Tuesday.
The package contained three Senate bills and one House bill that focused on medical freedoms, research, physician freedom of speech, and public records.
Senate Bill 252 would bar businesses and the government from requiring individuals to provide proof of vaccination or post-infection recoveries, such as a negative Covid test, for access to services. It also prevents discrimination against Floridians based on their immunity status or vaccination records.
House Bill 1387 forbids “gain of function” research, which is described as “enhanced potential pandemic pathogen research.”
Senate Bill 238 adds protections to residents from discrimination based on their healthcare choices and allows an exemption on the public records requirements pertaining to “complaints or investigations regarding violations of provisions” in medical discrimination.
Senate Bill 1580, the “Protections of Medical Conscience” bill, is one of the most controversial of the bunch.
Also known as the Physician's Freedom of Speech in the press release, the new law authorizes new rights for healthcare providers and insurers by giving them the ability to refuse medical services that are against their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. Practitioners are also given protection to their licenses from disciplinary action from medical or accreditation boards such as the Department of Health based on specific conduct.
“We are permanently ensuring that Florida will never become a biomedical security state by enacting expanded and permanent protections against medical authoritarianism,” DeSantis stated in May 11 tweet.
The “Protections of Medical Conscience” has been met with criticism from the LGBT+ community.
State Senator Shevrin Jones argued that the package brings the issue of discrimination to the medical field.
“These things are dangerous because the unintended consequences behind a lot of these are life and death for Floridians,” Jones said, adding that individuals desperately looking for medical assistance would run the risk of being denied services by the doctor.
Jones is Florida’s first openly gay state senator.
Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel of the ACLU of Florida, stated in a press release that the “Protections of Medical Conscience” would disrupt the delivery of healthcare with approximately 22 million Florida residents would be affected by the ethical beliefs of their providers.
“There is no definition of moral or ethical in the bill [legislation],” Gross stated. “Who determines what constitutes a sincerely held moral or ethical belief, and more importantly, why should access to health care be denied based on such vague, imprecise, and subjective terms?”
According to Gross, the legislative package would see an uptick of practitioners discriminating “in the provision of any health service” under Florida’s rules.
“It is quite frankly shocking in its breadth and vagueness and government overreach into the private sector and regulated businesses,” Gross said. “Medical standards[not ethical, moral, or religious beliefs] should guide medical treatment and health care services.”
She added that ethical, moral, and religious beliefs should not dictate how treatment and healthcare services are given.
Katherine Drabiak, an associate professor at the University of South Florida explained that federal law already includes conscience-based protections for medical professionals.
“Physicians and other providers [like nurses], don’t have an obligation to treat anybody,” Drabiak said.
She added that medical professionals do have the right to refuse patients as long as it is not for “the wrong reason(s).” Federal law prevents discrimination based on a patient’s sex, age, or race. However, gender identity and sexuality are not protected by federal law.
DeSantis emphasized that the package is created to encourage data and thorough research to protect the medical freedom of speech, not political agendas.
Bills such as the “Protections of Medical Conscience”, however, are a step backwards from DeSantis’s goal of establishing Florida as “the Medical Freedom State.”
The ability to express our beliefs are a fundamental right that is cemented in the principles of the First Amendment and the core values of the US. They should be protected and everyone should have the ability to make their voice hear. Unfortunately, the legislative package as well as Florida’s other bills limit the rights of others, for others. It heavily endorses one lifestyle and ideology while silencing others through questionable legalities, leaving communities vulnerable.
As important as personal beliefs are, they should not serve as the definite “go-to” decision to deny critical medical care. Granted, moral and ethical concerns should still be taken into account and analyzed thoroughly before taking possible steps, but utilizing religion to pick and choose who gets saved and who gets denied defies the expectations of helping those in need.
Other important services such as firefighters aren’t allowed to choose who to save and who should perish in a life-threatening situation. If that is the case, should community services such as firefighters be given the ability to refuse services based on their religious, ethical, or moral beliefs?
If people are rejected for the medical treatment they need based on the judgments of their providers, is it really medical freedom or medical gatekeeping?
Edited by Kavya Venkateshwaran
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