Sarah Palin (AP/Cliff Owen)

GOP's fear of doctors: Why it's hell bent on defaming -- and censoring -- them

From imagining death panels to restricting their speech about guns, here's how the right sees medical professionals


Heather Digby Parton
April 2, 2015 1:59PM (UTC)

The right is upset (as usual) over the fact that on Monday,the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that would have potentially dismantled Obamacare's "death panel." There is no such thing as a "death panel" but that hasn't stopped numerous pro-life groups and conservative grifter organizations from insisting that the Independent Payment Advisory Board is designed to force the elderly on to the ice floe in order to save money. (Why they should care about this when they seem to be determined to force the elderly into private health care that would certainly shove the sickest and oldest over a cliff at the earliest opportunity, remains a mystery) In any case, they were thwarted in this particular case but it's likely only the first of many attempts. This is one of the fundamental fears of Obamacare: government price controls leading inevitably to euthanasia.

The euthanasia bit came from that avatar of the right-wing id, Sarah Palin who claimed that what was merely encouraging doctors to discuss end-of-life planning with their patients was actually a slippery slope to soylent green. They not only wanted doctors to be denied payment for having this discussion (the issue at hand) they believe doctors should not discuss these issues with their patients at all lest the patients be talked into writing living wills or making it known that they do not want their lives to be extended if they are permanently incapacitated.

Almost exactly 10 years ago today,  Terry Schiavo became a household name when the entire right wing of the Republican Party decided to virtually elbow their way into her hospital room and demand that her advance directive, as relayed by her husband, to not use extraordinary measures to keep her alive was inoperative and irrelevant. God might perform a miracle, after all, so it's nobody's place to interfere, not even the individual herself. Ultimately, Schiavo's rights were upheld but the nation got a good hard look at the right wing stepping into the personal relationship between doctor, patient and family when the entire congress was called back to Washington to vote on this one issue and the president, on one of his lengthy Crawford vacations, made the unprecedented decision to fly back to the capitol in the middle of the night to sign it. The sight of these powerful people dictating the details of the doctor-patient relationship from a distance was off-putting to many Americans. These were, after all, the very politicians who made a fetish out of "keeping the government out of our lives."

This was no revelation to people who work in the area of reproductive rights, of course. The whole issue of abortion is about the state interfering in the most personal, intimate interaction between doctor and patient and family. But, there was no sex involved in the Schiavo incident, no "irresponsibility", no smiling babies or patriarchal assumptions to distract from the reality of this ugly scene as there always in when it comes to abortion rights. Both men and women could put themselves into this situation equally, they could see themselves having to deal with aging parents and their own kids having to deal with them. It hit home.

But it quickly retreated from sight and the right continued on with its crusade to micro-manage the relationship between doctor and patient in keeping with their particular religious values. All over the country, Republican legislatures are putting laws into place to force doctors to read a set script to patients seeking abortions and require them to perform unnecessary ultrasound tests to try and make women feel guilty for their decision.

Just this week, the state of Arizona passed a new law requiring doctor's to not only lie to their patients but potentially put them in medical danger:

Late Monday, it became the first state to pass a law requiring doctors who perform drug-induced abortions to tell women that the procedure may be reversible, an assertion that most doctors say is wrong.

The provision is part of a broader law signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, meant to prevent plans offered in Arizona through the federal health care exchange from providing coverage for most abortions.

This new law is based upon the word of a doctor doctor who runs a clinic called the Culture of Life Family Services in San Diego who says that he can "reverse" abortions by prescribing a different drug than the one recommended as the second dose in early-stage pill induced abortions. This has not been adequately tested. There is no research.  It is based upon one paper written by one doctor who is obviously a fanatic. Needless to say the medical professionals in Arizona are appalled. Ill-informed politicians are reaching once again into their offices and examining rooms and requiring them to pass on dangerous and erroneous information to their patients.

And at the same time the right is telling doctors what they are required to tell their patients about abortion, they are passing laws requiring them not to talk about other things. Think Progress had this from Texas last month:

Under a proposed bill currently being considered in Texas, doctors wouldn’t be allowed to ask their patients whether there are any firearms in their homes — and could be subject to punishment from the Texas Medical Board if they do initiate any conversations about gun safety in the office.

The lawmaker who’s sponsoring the measure, Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R), is backed by the National Rifle Association and the Texas State Rifle Association. He believes that the federal government is inappropriately reaching into doctors’ offices to figure out who owns gun

That's correct. They are proposing to censor doctors from speaking to their patients about gun violence. And their ostensible reason for doing this is because the federal government in reaching into doctors' offices. It's hard to believe their brains didn't explode from the dissonance.

And Representative Spitzer's rationale is almost as ludicrous as the old John Birth Society "Commies put fluoride in the water" theory:

"Pediatricians are asking children away from their parents, ‘Do you have guns in your house?’ and then reporting this on the electronic health records, and then the federal government, frankly, has access to who has guns and who doesn’t.”

Clearly, the federal government's real agenda is to engage in a clandestine sweep of pediatricians' young patients' electronic medical records to determine whose parents have guns. And then obviously they are planning to send in the jack-booted thugs to confiscate them. So in order to stop such a terrible overreach of state power, the "let's get government out of our lives" people are no longer just interfering with doctors who treat the elderly and women but now they must interfere with how they treat children as well. Evidently, their vaunted fealty toward individual rights does not extend to the examining table.(And if there's one place I think most Americans would really like to have some individual rights and privacy it's there...)

The reason the American Medical Association recommends that doctors talk to their patients about gun safety is because NRA, which used to consider that its primary goal, is so devoted to collecting money from its members, lobbying on behalf of gun manufacturers and flooding the streets of America with as many deadly weapons as possible it no longer wants to do this job. This isn't a back-door attempt to make firearms illegal. That would quixotic in the extreme. It's an attempt to cut back on the huge numbers of tragic gun accidents in this country --- something which nobody is out there defending, not even the NRA. (If someone's saying that we all have a constitutional right to accidentally shoot people, I haven't heard it.)

Researchers are trying to gather statistics on gun violence and that is seen as an assault on gun rights, something which has long been blocked by the NRA and their minions in the congress. Only a very insecure movement would be afraid of such data. It carries no meaning in itself, it's just numbers and observation. After centuries of debate the Supreme Court finally declared the 2nd Amendment to mean that an individual has a right to bear arms and that is highly unlikely to be reversed. They can relax about that.  Information won't kill them. A gun accident might, however, and it's downright nihilistic to believe that trying to prevent them through education and research must be stopped, especially by preventing doctors from discussing it with their patients.

Liberals are often accused by the freedom-loving right of having a Stalinist worldview in which they seek to impose their view on others by force. But if that's true, the right has now become what they most despise. These days they are using government to intrude on the most personal and private of medical matters, dictating not only what what medical professionals are allowed to do but what they are allowed to say to their patients. Reconciling this with their alleged blind fealty to the Constitution is quite a stretch. But then they have always had a rather selective view of the Bill of Rights. The first Amendment protects their freedom of religion and their freedom of speech. Others not so much. The Fourth Amendment only applies to citizens who've earned it. Indeed, only the Second is sacrosanct. In fact, they've taken to making it into a sort of "Super-Amendment" with their fatuous slogan "The Second Amendment is what guarantees the First."

And it's true. For the gun owner. An armed person is definitely more free to speak in America than one who isn't. Sure the right exists in the abstract for all of us. But in a country where people gun down drivers for honking their horn or parking in the wrong spot, let's just say that in practice it's becoming risky to say or do anything that might set someone off. It's not a more polite society, it's a more paranoid one. And in order to protect that Super-Amendment for gun owners, they are now enlisting government to infringe the rights of doctors and their patients and people who disagree with them.  Who could have ever guessed it would go that way?

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Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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