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California Law Punishing Doctors Who Opposed State-Sanctioned COVID Policy Set To Be Repealed

Even opponents of medical misinformation say the law went too far

California lawmakers are preparing to roll back a controversial law that sought to punish doctors who counseled and treated patients with COVID protocols that were disfavored by the state.

Under Assembly Bill 2098, which opponents have deemed medical censorship, the Medical Board of California would be authorized to revoke the licenses of doctors who provide information to patients about COVID-19 that runs counter to what the Board considers scientific consensus.

Specifically, doctors could be accused of “misinformation” by the Board and punished accordingly.

The legislation was immediately opposed, in part, because throughout the course of the pandemic official government institutions, individuals considered experts, and the outcomes of scientific research shifted positions on an array of subjects that include masking, alternative treatments, vaccine efficacy, and the origins of the outbreak.

The idea of forcing doctors to subscribe to an ill-defined “scientific consensus” was seen by many as compelling licensed physicians to embrace political orthodoxy rather than evidence-based medical care.

A month after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law, a federal judge blocked it, ruling that due to vagueness the legislation violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 15th Amendment.

As U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb explained, under the bill, “to qualify as ‘misinformation,’ the information must be ‘contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.’”

Shubb further stated the law was ambiguous in its definitions of the terms “scientific consensus” and “misinformation.”

He added, citing legal precedent, “Put simply, this provision is grammatically incoherent. While ‘statutes need not be written with ‘mathematical’ precision, they must be intelligible.”

Now, a state senate bill (SB-815) has inserted language that would undo AB 2098. If the bill passes this week, as it is expected to, AB 2098 would be null and void.

“We are happy that the Legislature is attempting to address the defects in last year’s legislation,” Chessie Thacher, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, which filed amicus briefs in four separate lawsuits related to AB 2098, told the LA Times. “As we argued in court, that bill was dangerously overbroad and confusing.”

Even staunch opponents of medical misinformation found the bill problematic, the Times noted. Under state law, doctors were already barred from lying to patients or from disseminating advice that fails to meet the standard of care.

“We do not need an extra bill in this state to regulate medical practice,” Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco and director of the UCSF-Bay Area Center for AIDS Research, told the Times. “I think it is prudent to repeal this bill.”

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