Physician Speech and Firearm Safety: Wollschlaeger v Governor, Florida

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Abstract

To provide the highest-quality medical care, physicians must be able to communicate openly with their patients and provide advice in conformance with professional standards of care. Although states have the power to regulate many aspects of medical practice, laws that interfere with speech by preventing physicians from discussing specific subjects with patients are constitutionally suspect. In 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit struck down key provisions of a Florida law that prohibited physicians from speaking with their patients about firearm safety as a violation of the First Amendment. We discuss this case, Wollschlaeger v Governor, Florida, and the implications of the ruling. Although courts may rule that physician “gag laws,” such as the one in Florida, are unconstitutional, this area of the law remains unsettled. Legislative mandates that interfere with medical practice may decrease the quality of care by substituting politics and legislative judgment for medical expertise.

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