Will California punish doctors for spreading false information about COVID-19?
Doctors could lose their license to practice if a bill waiting for governor’s signature becomes law
California would become the first state in the nation to punish doctors for giving patients false or misleading information about COVID-19 risks, vaccinations and treatments if the bill is signed into law in the coming weeks by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The bill leaves it up to the Medical Board of California to decide whether doctors’ interactions with patients — not their public statements — rise to the level of unprofessional conduct, and then to determine whether that merits revoking their medical license or taking other action, such as suspension.
Specifically targeted in the bill is disinformation that “deliberately disseminated with malicious intent or an intent to mislead,” as well as misinformation “that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.”
The bill also warns, “The spread of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has weakened public confidence and placed lives at serious risk,” and spells out that doctors have “a duty to provide their patients with accurate, science-based information.”
A co-author of the bill, California state Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician described as supporting stronger vaccination requirements, told The New York Times the law was intended to address “the most egregious cases” of deliberately misleading patients.
“In order for a patient to give informed consent, they have to be well informed,” Pan said.
But the bill has also raised concerns about the free speech rights of doctors. MedPage Today reported earlier this year that other states have attempted to limit the authority of medical boards to discipline doctors for spreading misinformation — or disinformation — about COVID-19.
A group called Physicians for Informed Consent filed a lawsuit against California’s medical board this month that says regulators are already “attempting to intimidate by investigation, censor and sanction physicians who publicly disagree with the government’s ever-evolving, erratic, and contradictory public health COVID-19 edicts.”
Newsom has three weeks to take action on the bill but has not publicly taken a position on it, the Times reported.