A federal judge in California has temporarily blocked the app from SINCE 2098a weeks-old state law intended to stop the spread of lies and misinformation surrounding COVID-19.
Judge William Shubb of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California granted the preliminary injunction on Wednesday in two related cases that challenged the law’s constitutionality.
In December, Judge Fred W. Slaughter of the United States District Court for the Central District of California denied a similar motion in a separate lawsuit targeting the bill.
Also Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit agreed to hear the appeal of that case along with a fourth, similar lawsuit filed in the Southern District of California.
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“We can all agree that if doctors are deliberately spreading misinformation about COVID, that’s a problem,” he said. Hanna Kieschnick, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, who filed amicus briefs in all four lawsuits. “We want the government to be able to protect the public from unsafe treatment and unsafe doctors.”
But AB 2098, he said, “is unconstitutional, unnecessary, and risks some pretty serious unintended consequences.”
Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) introduced AB 2098 in February to give the California Medical Board the ability to discipline doctors who spread false information about COVID-19 for unprofessional conduct.
In its original version, the bill detailed the types of actions that could result in disciplinary action under the new law. The board would have to consider, for example, whether the misinformation in question “was contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus to the point that its dissemination constitutes gross negligence,” and whether the doctor’s actions resulted in his patient “decreasing opportunities for the prevention of COVID-19″. or treatment that was not warranted by the individual’s medical history or condition.”
By the time he got to the governor. Gavin Newsom’s desk in September after several rounds of amendments, the bill’s language was much more vague.
in its signature statementNewsom acknowledged that he was “concerned about the chilling effect” of legislating doctor-patient conversations.
But this law, he wrote, “is strictly designed to apply only to those egregious cases in which a licensee acts with malicious intent or clearly deviates from the required standard of care while directly interacting with a patient under his or her care.”
The final version of the law doesn’t actually explain any of those egregious cases or specify how the board would define malicious intent. Shubb ruled that the “unclear wording and structure” of the law could have a “chilling effect”.
“As it stands, physicians reading the statute have no assurance that the courts will interpret it or the boards will apply it in a manner consistent with the interpretation proposed by the defendants,” the judge wrote.
Some sections of the law are written in a way that makes a clear interpretation almost impossible. The final text defines misinformation as “false information that contradicts contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.”
“Simply put, this arrangement is grammatically inconsistent,” Shubb wrote. “It is impossible to analyze the sentence and understand the relationship between the two clauses.”
dr. Donaldo M. Hernandezpresident of the California Medical Association, said he was “disappointed” by the ruling.
“There has been a lot of false rhetoric about what this bill does,” Hernández said in a statement. “AB 2098 applies only when a physician intentionally misleads a patient under her care or deviates from the appropriate standard of care. It does not stifle legitimate, necessary, and appropriate scientific and medical debate. We cannot allow the toxicity of the moment to blind us to the moral and ethical obligations that doctors have with our patients”.
Opponents of the law say its wording does not sufficiently protect legitimate health care.
“The problem with AB 2098 is that it’s so broad that it will chill the discourse of well-meaning physicians who provide even accurate and appropriate care,” Kieschnick said. “The legislature went too far. And they didn’t need to.”
State law already prohibits doctors from lying to their patients or providing shoddy medical advice that doesn’t meet the basic standard of quality care. That is the case for all diseases, including COVID-19.
AB 2098 applies only to conversations between patients and their doctors about patient care. It does not apply to statements that a person with a medical degree might make in public places, such as social media posts, rallies, or talk show appearances.
A legislative analysis of the bill before its passage found that any attempt to limit public statements by doctors would likely not survive a First Amendment challenge in court.
Plaintiffs in the various lawsuits against AB 2098 include Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit organization for pedestrians in inaccurate health information founded by vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and a Newport Beach physician who has promoted the use of discredited COVID-19 treatments ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.
Not all opponents of the bill accept misinformation. They just don’t accept this particular law.
“When someone says that COVID vaccines are microchipped, that COVID vaccines have the sign of the devil, that is clearly an issue that we need to address,” he said. dr. Eric Wider, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco who specializes in geriatrics. “I am very much in favor of tackling misinformation. I just don’t think this bill will do it.”