He’s right—and the Democrat party’s newfound and aggressive affinity for censoring debate and strong-arming doctors is making many of us rethink our political allegiance.
I’m a lifelong Democrat. I voted for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, e Joe Biden. I used to have an inherent aversion to Republicans, as I joke with colleagues, similar to how the vaccinated feel about the unvaccinated today. But as the pandemic unfolded, and I discussed with doctors across the country and around the world my experience treating patients, I met many new conservative colleagues and friends who put politics aside to focus on doing our best at the bedside. It made me more tolerant and understanding of their worldviews.
Allo stesso tempo, I used to view Democrats, and the center-left more broadly, as the champions of free speech both in civil society and in our professional institutions. Ma ora, as with today’s progressive political movement, medical boards are adopting policies that censor opinions, defining such speech as mis- or disinformation, especially scientific opinions around COVID. Medical professionals who refuse to toe the party line risk censorship, cancellation, and even the loss of license—a fate far worse than getting banned from Twitter.
The trend is forcing doctors who exhibit critical thinking to face an existential choice: join the mob and support what many of us believe are dangerous policies without a sound scientific basis, or stand up and risk losing your livelihood.
This trend has troubling long-term implications for patients—something all of us will become at some point in our lives.
Consider what is happening in California. A bill moving through the State House grants sweeping new powers to the state’s medical board to initiate investigations of doctors whose COVID treatment decisions “departed from the applicable standard of care.” While I am all for policies that protect patients from irresponsible doctors, that’s not what this is. In the bill, the definition of “disinformazione” is intentionally vague, the consequences are clear and severe, che vanno da “disciplinary action” to loss of a medical license.
Such a policy flies in the face of medical and scientific training. In medical school, we are taught to apply critical thinking and question even established medical protocols and scientific dogma for important reasons—by questioning and researching, we more strongly understand the basis (or lack thereof) which underpin these beliefs. The history of science is replete with established practices being overturned in this way. In medical practice, we are pushed to use all our knowledge to treat patients using our best judgement and abilities and to advance the practice of medicine. The California bill would demolish these tenets in one fell swoop.
Allowing bureaucrats or politicians to intrude on the doctor-patient relationship inflicts irreparable harm on the practice of medicine. Free thought and expression would be replaced by fear and group think. Many doctors choose to go-along-to-get-along—even with policies they vehemently disagree with—rather than finding themselves out of work and struggling to feed their families.
As misguided as the California effort may be, it will set a precedent for other states to follow. Già, similar efforts are afoot at the national level. The Federation of State Medical Boards, a national trade association that represents 71 state medical boards, approved a medical misinformation and disinformation policy at its annual meeting.
Falling in line with censorious Big Tech companies bottles up potentially game-changing treatments in our ongoing battle with COVID. Cases are rising again, driven up nearly 60 percent nationally by Omicron subvariants, and experts are warning about another surge in the fall. Now is the time to foster—not suppress—creative thinking that could lead to better treatment strategies.
Science is not static. It is constantly changing. Those who provide treatments need the freedom to do the same. Consider Dr. Anthony Fauci’s statement in January 2022 that COVID will, “ultimately find just about everybody.” It is an admission that would have been unthinkable two years ago amid the initial fear of mandatory lockdowns. As facts and science change, so does our collective understand that drives public policy. That is how the system should work.
Tribalism and polarization have made our political and medical discourse nasty and divisive. Doctors must be kept above the partisan fray, not forced to take sides and pick a jersey. Our jobs are too important, and we need to be apolitical to maintain credibility with everyone who comes to us seeking treatment. Progress and innovative medical breakthroughs in the future depend on freedom and medical choice now.