By Kate Michelman, WomenVote PA and Susan Frietsche, WLP Senior Staff Attorney
Doctors aren’t dummies.
They don’t need politicians to tell them what they can and can’t say to patients, or how to administer tests and treatments.
On September 8, the House Democratic Policy Committee convened to explore the need to pass the Patient Trust Act in Pennsylvania. Physicians, medical ethics experts, and patient advocates met in Pittsburgh to discuss the dangers patients face when medical care becomes politicized.
Introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) and Senator Mike Stack (D-Phila) in July, the Patient Trust Act is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-active, pro-choice package of bills developed by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus in the Pennsylvania Legislature.
The Patient Trust Act protects patients. It says that politicians have no business putting words that are “not medically accurate and appropriate for the patient” into the mouths of doctors.
Since antiquity, physicians have taken an oath to treat patients to the best of their ability, with knowledge rooted in clinical experience and scientific consensus. But in recent years, politicians have made it difficult — and in some cases even illegal — for doctors to keep that sacred obligation.
These government-intrusion laws run the gamut from prohibitions on discussing gun storage safety with patients to gag orders preventing doctors from naming the toxic chemicals that are poisoning a patient’s body. A significant number of these government-intrusion laws are proposed by lawmakers trying to disguise their opposition to contraception and abortion by disingenuously claiming that these laws promote women’s health and safety.
Recently, the National Partnership for Women and Families released a report that explored the nationwide spike in laws that command doctors what to say and coerce them to administer — and bill patients for — medically unnecessary procedures.
Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health found that the majority of states — 35 in all — have passed such laws. In many cases, the information doctors are forced to give patients is not even medically and scientifically accurate.
The report’s authors concluded that “anti-choice laws are requiring health care providers to choose between following their medical training and their ethical obligations to their patients — and following the law.”
From the Bad Medicine report:
*Five states force doctors to tell patients of a false link between abortion and breast cancer.
*Five states force doctors to falsely advise a patient that an abortion will affect her future fertility.
*Eight states force doctors to provide misinformation that falsely indicates the only possible emotional response to abortion is negative.
*Twelve states force doctors to provide unfounded information that fetuses can feel pain, despite lack of scientific evidence.
In 2012, anti-choice Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed mandating that doctors perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion. The bill, one of the most severe of its kind in the country, was quietly abandoned after a similar bill led to a backlash in Virginia.
But that doesn’t mean the mandatory ultrasound bill, or legislation like it, won’t be proposed in Pennsylvania again.
Laws like these enable politicians to act like ventriloquists, throwing their words into the mouths of doctors. It’s time for politicians to stop masquerading as ideological ventriloquists.
Doctors aren’t dummies. Patients deserve better. Women need to be able to trust that the voice they’re hearing is from their physician, not from Harrisburg’s political puppeteers.
Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”
Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.