Stifling Medical Progress

When I was a boy, I was active in sports, playing football, baseball, and wrestling. There was a medical theory at the time that when you sweat you lose salt, therefore you need salt tablets to restore your normal balance of sodium. The same theory was used to treat workers at the Bethlehem Steel Plant where many hot jobs led to workers getting dehydrated and experiencing heat stroke.

Then medical researchers found that when you sweat, you lose more water than you lose sodium. This means your blood becomes more concentrated and your sodium content goes up. Giving someone more sodium (salt tablets) only makes the situation worse leading to more dehydration and even higher sodium levels in the blood (hypernatremia). The correct treatment of someone sweating too much is to give them more water. Eventually that knowledge led to a new drink for athletes called Gatorade.

When the Covid pandemic hit, doctors were faced with treating a disease they had never seen before. When Covid patients were found to have very low oxygen levels, they were put on ventilators, the standard care for severe respiratory diseases. But some doctors noticed that severely ill patients responded better to noninvasive ventilation such as high-flow nasal tubes. They shared their findings with other physicians and gentler oxygen support became the norm. That change in treatment has saved tens of thousands of lives.

Allysia Finley, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says such a radical change in treatment from the usual standard of care would become illegal under a proposed new bill in the California legislature. The legislation would require the state Medical Board to take action against doctors found to be spreading “misinformation” related to the “nature and risks of the virus, its prevention and treatment; and the development, safety, and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.”

Naturally, “misinformation” is a poorly defined term, open to interpretation by those in authority. Medicine is not practiced with a cookbook and we don’t need state authorities determining which recipes they approve and disapprove. Much that was labeled “misinformation” by the media and some doctors in this pandemic has more recently found widespread credibility – such as the origin of the Covid virus in a virology lab in Wuhan, China.

Ms. Finley points out the dangers of this California legislation. She says, “So doctors who prescribe or recommend treatments that haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for Covid-19 – for example, the antidepressant fluvoxamine, which has shown strong results in trials – could be disciplined and even lose their medical licenses no matter if they have scientific evidence to support them. Same for doctors who disagree with masking and vaccines for children.”

“The bill would put physicians’ licenses at risk if they say the vaccines are anything other than safe and effective,” says Teryn Clarke, a neurologist in Newport Beach, California. “But all medicines and medical procedures carry a risk of adverse events, and patients deserve to know what those potential risks are.”

Much of what was learned early in the pandemic was from doctors sharing their clinical experiences and knowledge. Patients receiving oxygen did better when placed in a prone position, for instance, and the steroid dexamethasone could tamp down the “cytokine storm” in severely ill patients. Early in the pandemic some doctors hypothesized that the virus could spread through aerosols, and therefore 6 feet of distance wouldn’t necessarily prevent infection. This outlier view could have been deemed misinformation under California’s proposal. It is now conventional wisdom.

Is this law constitutional? Many believe it would be, but some liberal public-health experts say that makes the Constitution the problem. “Vaccine misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic underscores how reverence for freedom of speech in the U.S. intensifies our vulnerability to public health threats,” wrote Stanford University’s Michelle Mello recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. She laments, “the Supreme Court’s attachment to a particular conception of free speech rights,” which limits the government’s ability to impose speech restrictions. She suggests that state medical boards can “suspend the licenses of physicians whose statements constitute unprofessional conduct,” which could include “misinformation” as they define it. I’m sure she’s up in arms over the sale of Twitter to Elon Musk, too. Like many liberal elites, she believes free speech is for me, but not for Thee.

The intolerance of different viewpoints that is infecting the medical profession may itself be a public-health threat. Emails obtained by the American Institute for Economic Research showed how the National Institute of Health’s Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci tried to discredit the authors of The Great Barrington Declaration, which opposed the lockdown consensus. “This is a fringe component of epidemiology,” Dr. Collins told The Washington Post.“This is not mainstream science. It’s dangerous.”

 

(Author’s note: As of this writing, 929,766 infectious disease epidemiologists, public health scientists, physicians, and concerned citizens from all over the world have signed The Great Barrington Declaration. I am proud to be one of them.)