Florida Governor Ron Desantis signed four medical-related bills this May, one of which will pave the way for medical discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender. Senate Bill 1580, which is ridiculously named the Physician’s Freedom of Speech despite applying to far more than speech, puts limits on medical boards, which now cannot hold practitioners accountable for refusing care to individuals on moral or religious grounds. SB 1580 represents a degradation of the Hippocratic Oath and undermines the medical profession.
This law has unprecedented implications for patients and could create dangerous gaps in available healthcare. This law allows doctors to do things like refuse to prescribe contraceptives or offer gender-affirming care based on religious beliefs. Religion has no place in medicine, science, or politics. Doctors do not get to play God and decide that their beliefs should govern a person’s medical care. They do not get to deny people what is unambiguously — at least if they have a semblance of humanity — an inalienable right simply because they have decided they cannot meet the standards of a career they chose to do.
This will further erode trust in medical practitioners by patients as the quality of their care is completely compromised. In Florida, patients will have to automatically question whether or not they will receive unbiased and sound treatment. The ACLU condemned this bill in the strongest terms, with their legislative director and senior policy counsel in Florida calling the bill “a state-sanctioned license to discriminate in the provision of any healthcare service… Medical standards — not ethical, moral, or religious beliefs — should guide medical treatment and health care services.”
This bill already lies in conflict with federal law and international medical rules. The 1986 Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act outlines that physicians cannot deny emergency care based on an ability to pay in Medicare-participating emergency departments. There is a reasonable worry that this new law will be used to deny care to patients who cannot meet the financial obligations of medical care. These practitioners, under Florida law, cannot even be reported for their actions.
While this might be starting in Florida, it will not stop at state borders. This will lay the framework for other states to create laws that expand the viability of medical discrimination. It will have a domino effect and engage more states in what is a horrific human rights violation. Federal agencies need to take action, condemning these laws and cutting off funding to medical institutions which allow a flagrant violation of basic decency.