Calif. bill to give MDs control of vaccine exemption
Legislation has been introduced in California that, if passed, would require parents to obtain the signature of a “health care practitioner” in order to obtain a personal beliefs/religious vaccine exemption. The bill, authored by assembly member Richard Pan, a pediatrician, recognizes only medical doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants as “health care practitioners” qualified and authorized to sign such exemptions.
The signature would have to be obtained on a special form provided by the Department of Public Health, which states that the health care practitioner has provided risk and benefit information to the parent.
Under the current law, children are barred from attending school unless they receive specified vaccines. However, a child may be exempted from this requirement if the parent or guardian files a letter or affidavit stating that the immunization is contrary to his or her beliefs. The new bill would have the effect of forcing parents to visit a medical practitioner for vaccine risk-benefit information. Although not addressed in the bill, it’s assumed that normal medical office fees would apply for these visits.
Last year, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a similar bill, which is currently under consideration in several other states including Colorado and Vermont. Legislation introduced in Arizona earlier this year failed to get a public hearing and the bill died.
The laws have enraged patients’ rights advocates around the country.
"We do not believe doctors or health care workers should be the gatekeepers for what essentially has to do with a person's conscientious beliefs," said Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center. "But we knew once this succeeded in Washington, it would be taken to other states."
The possibility that California might pass this anti-patients’ rights bill has driven chiropractors to take strong positions in opposition to it. They argue that the law isn’t just a vaccine issue but an unconstitutional attempt to deprive people of the right to make their own health care decisions. Parents are being forced to get permission to opt out of a voluntary medical procedure.
Alan Phillips, a noted vaccine rights attorney, submitted an in-depth legal memorandum to the California legislation. In it, he stated: “Federal courts have held that First Amendment protection for religious objections to immunizations requires only that the applicant hold a sincere belief that is religious in nature. Thus, AB 2109’s additional requirements involving healthcare providers, as they pertain to those persons exercising the exemption due to personal religious beliefs opposed to immunizations, violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” (See www.vaccinerights.com/legislativeprojects.html for complete memorandum.)
California chiropractor Tim O’Shea, DC, is leading the campaign against AB 2109, and helping to raise awareness of the issue throughout the state.
“It’s not just another bad idea,” he explained. “Without exaggeration, AB 2109 is the single most radical attack on medical freedom in the history of American jurisprudence.” Excerpts from his online newsletter article, “Freedom With Permission: The End of Debate” (www.thedoctorwithin.com) quickly appeared on hundreds of sites and Facebook pages.
“We are specifically excluded in favor of those who are not even primary care doctors,” Dr. O’Shea emphasized. “This is an insult, both professionally and academically. Who is more informed to counsel the large proportion of California patients who seek a course of natural health, in the holistic, vitalistic model?”
The California Chiropractic Association (CCA) has taken an “oppose unless amended” position, saying it would withdraw opposition to the bill if chiropractors were included among the “health care professionals” authorized to sign the exemption form.
CCA Governmental Affairs Department Chair Kassie Donoghue, DC, announced: “We believe that our best opportunity to assist our patients is to be amended into this bill as a resource for our patients who may not have a relationship with a medical provider who will sign off on their choice. If doctors of chiropractic are amended into the bill, so that doctors of chiropractic can provide the informed consent to patients and sign off on their exemption, CCA will drop our opposition to this additional burden on parents who have personal or religious objections to vaccines. If doctors of chiropractic are not amended into the bill, CCA will continue to pursue strenuous opposition to AB 2109.”
Many of California’s DCs were shocked and displeased with that political stand, seeing the issue as a constitutional one rather than simply legislation that discriminated against chiropractors.
“The bill’s proponents would never remove the exclusion of DCs from the bill. Why? Because we don’t have the needle. The only people allowed to sign the forms are those who will be waiting there with the needle, waiting there to disabuse these irresponsible parents from their dangerous ideas about exemption,” said one chiropractor, who asked for confidentiality.
“Giving DCs the authority to act as gatekeepers for people’s access to vaccines isn’t the point,” said Timothy Feuling, publisher of The Chiropractic Journal. “The bottom line is that there should be NO gatekeepers at all. People have the right to decide whether or not they want to subject themselves and their children to potentially dangerous and ineffective vaccines. To prevent children from going to school unless they’re injected with a drug or get ‘permission’ from some stranger designated by the government is absurd. This can’t be allowed to happen.”
Under the bill, there’s no requirement for an MD or nurse to actually sign the form, even after providing “risk/benefit” information. “Parents might have to go to several doctors before finding one who will sign,” said O’Shea. “The sponsors of this bill are well aware that most forms will go unsigned.”
O’Shea added that there’s no question the deep pockets of the medical/pharmaceutical industry is behind the push for AB 2109.
According to Maplight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, research organization that tracks political contributions, the bill’s author, Richard Pan, received more than $175,625 in campaign contributions from health professionals from Jan 1, 2009 to Dec 31, 2010, including $17,450 from the California Medical Association, $16,450 from Kaiser Permanente, and $15,600 each from the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, and the National Nurses United.
“Vaccines are the foundation of the pediatric industry,” O’Shea stressed. “Without vaccines, not only do they lose millions in office visits, upselling drugs and procedures, pediatricians lose the opportunity to inculcate the idea of a lifetime of dependency on organized medicine. Childhood is the only time for such indoctrination. That’s the fundamental reason vaccines are such a charged issue, and why they’ll legislate away the debate on vaccine safety. Medicine knows they can’t win the debate, and this is their best alternative.”
O’Shea gained widespread attention when he challenged Pan to publicly debate the bill’s constitutionality, but the legislator failed to make any response. In place of the debate, O’Shea has organized a public discussion of the bill to be held on April 16 in Sacramento.
All California chiropractors and patients’ rights advocates are urged to contact their legislators and oppose AB 2109. For up to date information on the bill, and a list of recommended actions, visit the NVIC advocacy portal at bit.ly/TCJvaccinealert.
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