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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed the “Protections of Medical Conscience Act” into law. The act permits healthcare providers and payers to refuse service based on their “conscience-based objection,” which could be rooted in ethical, moral, or religious beliefs. However, there are no clear criteria for what counts as a “moral” or “ethical” belief in the act. The goal of the law is to protect healthcare providers and payers from discrimination, but advocates are concerned that it could be used to deny LGBTQ+ individuals access to necessary medical treatment and other life-saving services.
The law applies to doctors, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, mental health professionals, laboratory technicians, nursing home workers, hospital administrators, insurance companies, and payment entities. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes that these individuals could refuse care for everything from medical testing to diagnosis to referrals to drugs to counseling. While the law prohibits discrimination against patients based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, it makes no mention of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The potential for discrimination in the medical industry includes public and private institutions of higher education. Medical personnel could decline to aid in the midst of an active medical emergency, such as assisting an unmarried pregnant woman. Pharmacy technicians could refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or drugs used to treat STIs based on their personal “ethical” or “moral” convictions.
Brandon Wolf, press secretary for Equality Florida, argues that the law puts patients in harm’s way, undermines the job of healthcare providers, and endangers vulnerable Floridians. Wolf contends that the state should be working to increase access to medical care rather than giving providers and companies a sweeping carve-out of nondiscrimination laws.
State Surgeon General and Secretary of the Department of Health Joseph Ladapo was present at DeSantis’ bill signing event. Ladapo has spoken out against government guidelines that favor gender-affirming care for teenagers, using discredited research on transgender people. As a member of the group America’s Frontline Doctors, Ladapo was featured in a viral film that spread misinformation about COVID-19. The video’s participants made false claims that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine could cure COVID-19, that face masks were ineffective in preventing the virus’s spread, and that the virus was less lethal than the flu. Lapado has published numerous opinion pieces reiterating these misleading allegations.
In conclusion, the “Protections of Medical Conscience Act” signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis permits healthcare providers and payers to refuse service based on their “conscience-based objection.” While the goal of the law is to protect healthcare providers and payers from discrimination, advocates are concerned that it could be used to deny LGBTQ+ individuals access to necessary medical treatment and other life-saving services. The law’s scope and ambiguity have raised alarms among civil liberties advocates, who argue that it exceeds any reasonable expectations of religious liberty and constitutes government intrusion into the private sector.