Posted by Bill Sandweg on 03 April 2023.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not a big fan of state medical boards. My complaint is that there is a lot of malpractice out there and the medical boards do not do an effective job of weeding out the doctors who regularly make mistakes that kill and injure patients. On the other hand, while they may not do all the things they could to protect the public, they do provide much needed expertise and oversight of the medical profession. That important oversight is being threatened across the country by state legislatures.
A recent piece in the New England Journal of Medicine discussed the extent to which our culture wars have emboldened legislatures to step in and limit the powers of state medical boards to discipline doctors who push treatments that have no scientific basis but are good at separating patients from their cash. For example, a number of legislatures have forbidden their medical boards from taking action against doctors who prescribed ivermectin as a treatment for Covid-19. All reputable studies which have considered ivermectin have concluded that it provides no benefit against Covid-19 and can be dangerous to humans, if taken in large doses. Other legislatures have passed laws protecting doctors who push misinformation about Covid-19. Covid-19 is not the only area in which legislatures have interfered with medical boards.
Culture wars, while annoying to most, may have a reason for being, but they have no place when it comes to regulating physicians. The premise of the legislation directed at medical boards appears to be the dangerous notion that there are no facts, just opinions, and that “medical facts” are being used to keep out other ideas that may be just as effective, but are not popular among the “elites.” This premise inevitably leads to quack medicine which promises cures, but which delivers nothing.
Medical doctors have spent many years learning about the human body and training to heal it when we become sick. There is no substitute for knowledge when it comes to serious illness. We spend billions of dollars each year for research into better ways to treat illness and prevent it. If you wish to go to a faith healer, or to a tribal shaman, or to an acupuncturist to treat your cancer, that is your right. When, however, you choose to go to a medical doctor, you have the right to expect that this person will treat you in accordance with scientific principles and that, if they do not, the state medical board will step in and take them to task.
If you believe that the pandemic is behind us and that these interferences will not affect medical boards in the future, you are deluding yourself. Once legislatures adopt the position that there are no real facts, there is no limit to the harm they can wreak. The public needs to be confident that, if a doctor is licensed by the state, the doctor will adhere to certain basic scientific principles in the care she or he offers. If legislatures forbid state medical boards from holding doctors to these principles, anything goes. You only have to open the paper or go on line to see that medical doctors are not immune to greed or to bizarre beliefs. We must preserve the ability of the medical boards to protect the public, even if it offends the culture warriors at the state legislature.