U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Strikes Down Florida Law In ‘Docs vs. Glocks’ Case

By  //  February 18, 2017

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Physicians can now ask patients about guns

A U.S. appeals court on Thursday struck down a Florida law that barred doctors from asking patients about gun ownership, ruling that the law violated doctors’ right to free speech.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (CCA) in Atlanta struck down a controversial Florida law that prohibits doctors from asking patients about their gun ownership or recording that information in medical records unless it was medically necessary, ruling that the law violated doctors’ right to free speech.

The statute, signed into law in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott, has been embroiled in the courts for the past six years.

Doctor-Patient Relationship and First Amendment Rights In Question

Soon after the law was passed, individual doctors and medical associations challenged it in court.

With opponents of the law claiming that it intrudes on the doctor-patient relationship and physicians’ First Amendment rights, a 2012 U.S District Court ruling struck down the state law, popularly referred to as the “physician gag law” or the “Docs v. Glocks law,” as a violation of physicians’ First Amendment rights.

The controversial statute, signed into law in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott, has been embroiled in the courts for the past six years. It has been the state vs. the medical community and was dubbed the Docs vs. Glocks case.

However, a three-judge panel in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned that ruling in 2014, saying the law was a “legitimate regulation” of the medical profession intended to promote good medical care.

In fact, that three-judge panel upheld the constitutionality of the law in three separate rulings, but the ban keeping the law from going into effect remained in place.

The full 11th Circuit reversed that ruling 10-1, finding the state had not shown any valid reason for restricting doctors’ speech and that the record-keeping, inquiry and anti-harassment provisions of the law are unconstitutional.

However, the court did uphold the portion of the law that bars doctors from discriminating against patients who have guns.

Physicians: Information Related To Gun Ownership Part Of Routine Medical History, No Threat To Gun Ownership

Doctors opposing the law, who if in violation of it faced penalties including fines and permanent revocation of their medical licenses, have said they ask about gun ownership as a normal part of screening new patients, along with questions about drug and alcohol use, smoking, exercise and eating habits.

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Merritt Island pediatrician and past president of the Florida Pediatric Society (the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP]), Dr. Lisa Cosgrove wrote in an August 2011 Space Coast Medicine & Active Living magazine op-ed, “Ultimately, the bill will infringe on the pa­tient-physician relationship, increase government intrusion in the practice of medicine, and decrease the safety and health care of Florida’s children.

Dr. Lisa Cosgrove

The bill is an unnecessary intrusion into the physician-patient relationship as privacy regarding patient visits is currently covered under national law through the Health Insurance Portability and Account­ability Act. Because of the existence of HIPAA, no law is needed.”

Dr. Cosgrove goes on to say, “During a visit, several aspects of the home are discussed, including swimming pools, hazardous chemicals, smoke detectors, medications, and firearms. Answers to these questions help parents protect their child from multiple forms of harm.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a group of medical and child welfare organizations opposing the law, praised the decision.

“We are thrilled that the court has finally put to bed the nonsensical and dangerous idea that a doctor speaking with a patient about gun safety somehow threatens the right to own a gun,” ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said in a news release.

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