Judge defeats challenge to ‘medical gag order’ on health risks from fracking

Fracking Article Oct 31 2013 RT


Pennsylvania authorities have denied a doctor the right to challenge a so-called “medical gag rule” that prevents him and other physicians from warning the public about the health dangers associated with fracking.

Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez of Dallas, Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit  against the state last year, asserting that Act 13 of 2012 forces  medical professionals to enter “a vague confidentiality  agreement” that prevents them from having a completely honest  dialogue with patients.

Hydraulic fracking involves drilling through underground shale  rock with the help of chemicals – many of them toxic – to release  natural gas. Earlier this month, a research team out of Duke  University examined Pennsylvania wastewater and found what they  described as “alarmingly” high levels of radioactivity, salts,  metals, and other potentially harmful sediments.

Yet the “medical gag rule” forbids doctors like Rodriguez  from going into depth about the health problems that chemicals  from fracking can cause. Critics have said the bill’s passage,  and the court’s refusal to grant Dr. Rodriguez the right to speak  freely with his patients, is an indication of just how entrenched  the oil and gas lobby is in state politics.

Rodriguez specializes in renal diseases, hypertension, and  advanced diabetes. He “has recently treated patients directly  exposed to high-volume hydraulic fracturing fluid as the result  of well blowouts,” including a patient “with a complicated  diagnosis with low platelets, anemia, rash and acute renal  failure that required extensive hemodialysis and exposure to  chemotherapeutic agents,” the complaint stated, as quoted by  Courthouse News.

For fulfilling his true responsibility as a doctor, though,  Rodriguez allegedly risks violating the American Medical  Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics, an infraction that  could cost him his medical license.

That may well happen, because the state requires professional  healthcare providers “to enter into, upon request by gas drilling company or vendor, a vague confidentiality agreement to maintain the specific identity any amount of any chemicals claimed to be a trade secret by a gas drilling company and/or its vendor as a condition precedent to receiving such information deemed unnecessary to provide competent medical treatment to plaintiff’s patient,” according to the complaint.

Despite Rodriguez’s complaint that the provision is a violation  of his First and 14th Amendment rights, and multiple briefs filed  by medical associations on his behalf, a federal judge dismissed  the suit upon deciding the issue was “too conjectural” to  stand.

Although plaintiff alleges that he requires the kind of  information contemplated under the act for the treatment of his  patients, he does not allege that he has been in a situation  where he needed or attempted to obtain such information, despite  the fact that he alleges that he has treated patients injured by  hydraulic fracturing fluid in the past,” wrote Judge A.  Richard Caputo. “Similarly, plaintiff does not allege that he  has been in a position where he was required to agree to any sort  of confidentiality agreement under the act.”

The decision goes on to state that any attempt Rodriguez made to  notify his patients of Act 13’s impact were “merely a  prophylactic measure to ease his fears of potential future  harm.”