A growing contingent of people concerned about how hospitals treat COVID-19 is calling on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto a bill the Republican Party is quickly pushing through the state’s legislature.
The Republican-led effort seeks to extend a law that grants near-immunity to health care providers for their treatment of COVID-19, as long as they follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They say the measure still is needed to help health care facilities stay solvent during the pandemic.
The original measure was passed in 2021 and was set to expire in March. But Republicans are pushing an extension bill through the Florida Legislature. The effort seeks to extend the law’s special protections for health care providers through June 1, 2023.
Contention over the bill puts DeSantis, a Republican, in a tricky spot in an election year, with 17 challengers vying for his position.
DeSantis must decide whether to support lawmakers in his own party or listen to conservative groups, setting a powerful example for governors around the country.
Participants in medical freedom rallies across Florida and the rest of the country have decried hospital behavior in the treatment of COVID-19. Many families have asked courts to intervene and help them obtain treatments for their loved ones when all other government-recommended treatments had failed.
DeSantis recently said he’s pushing Florida lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow doctors in his state to go against federal guidelines and prescribe what they think will work best for a patient. His office didn’t respond to requests for comment on the effort to extend the immunity period.
Health care experts, political activists, families who’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19, and attorneys involved in recent health care battles to obtain alternative treatments signed a letter that was hand-delivered on Feb. 14 to DeSantis’s office, asking him to veto the bill. The signers of the letter represent 25 organizations with members that number in the hundreds of thousands of Floridians, says the letter’s author, attorney R. Shawn McBride, of the American Freedom Information Institute in Maitland, Florida.
The letter’s signers don’t have a problem with giving health care providers protection from unfair lawsuits, McBride says.
Their problem with the law is that it ties liability protection for medical providers to their adherence to government guidelines in the treatment of COVID-19. That provision makes doctors and hospitals unwilling to try other treatments that may work better, or that families desperately want to try when all government-recommended treatments have failed, McBride and other attorneys told The Epoch Times.
The stipulation has “led to medical decisions and policies that are causing unnecessary deaths,” the letter states. “We must move to a better liability immunity system that leads to doctors getting to use the treatments they believe will work for their patients. SB 7014 does not accomplish this goal.”
The law “takes away patient choice and encourages health care providers to keep doing what they want to do,” the letter states.
Dr. Robert Malone, the virologist and immunologist credited as the pioneer of mRNA vaccine technology used in the fight against COVID-19, was among the first to sign the letter to DeSantis, McBride said.
Malone has become an outspoken opponent of vaccine mandates and created a social media firestorm after telling podcaster Joe Rogan that the United States is in the midst of a “mass formation psychosis” about the pandemic. Mass formation psychosis is when a large group of people unquestioningly allow their leaders to guide them and will continue to follow those leaders no matter what evidence emerges that conflicts with the leaders’ narrative.
“The big concern is that the law is causing hospital group-think,” McBride told The Epoch Times. “It makes it scary for them to break away from CDC protocols. If they try emerging treatments, they lose liability protections.”
Under the legislation, health care providers still can face lawsuits. But to prevail, plaintiffs have to prove “that the health care provider was grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct.”
And that makes it practically impossible to sue medical providers, which can lower the standard of care, attorneys have told The Epoch Times.
Florida is one of 29 states across the country to enact laws shielding medical professionals from liability related to COVID-19. All 50 state governors were urged to put the protections in place by the federal government shortly after the pandemic began nearly two years ago, according to the American Medical Association.
In Florida, it’s now up to DeSantis to decide whether to sign or veto the bill. He has seven days to respond once lawmakers officially deliver it to him. If he vetoes the bill, the legislature can override his veto with a two-thirds vote. If DeSantis chooses to do nothing, the bill will become law without his signature and go into effect immediately.
Signers of the letter asking for a veto urged DeSantis to “create appropriate legislation that reflects our shared core values: protecting life, individual liberty and the freedom of medical choice. All of the signatory groups are taking action because we know better legislation will save lives and give patients the dignity of getting the treatment they desire.”
Lori Bontell traveled to Tallahassee on Feb. 14 to deliver the letter to DeSantis’s office. For her, blocking the legislation is deeply personal, and it’s her most heartfelt prayer that her governor will veto it, she said.
“I helplessly watched my sister die as the hospital refused to provide life-saving treatments,” she wrote in an email to The Epoch Times. “They would only follow the CDC COVID protocols, which ultimately led to her death.
“We aren’t against the healthcare providers. We just want patients to have the right to choose the treatments that they want and need and for their own doctors to have the freedom to exercise their independent medical judgment on a case-by-case basis to help their patients.”
Bontell and her brother were fighting in court for the right to try other medications to save their sister when she died. Now, it has become Bontell’s mission to affect change. She hopes that changing things in Florida could lead to change across the country.
“Otherwise, these unnecessary deaths will continue,” Bontell wrote. “Families like mine will be left to suffer the consequences of these protocols that several doctors have stated are outdated, ineffective, and lead to ventilation and death.”