The Louisiana legislature is considering a bill that would give physicians the same due process rights as citizens accused of a crime, instead of treating them as guilty until proven innocent, states the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). Senate Bill 286 by Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, would assure that physicians have the right to know their accusers and have access to all the evidence and documents acquired in the investigation.
“Medical board proceedings are not like a court of law, where the accused has to be proven guilty before a jury and an unbiased judge,” states AAPS director Jane M. Orient, M.D. “It’s a form of administrative law, where an unaccountable government agency is prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Physicians have little opportunity to present a defense.”
“Sanctions imposed by the board can be the equivalent of a professional death sentence,” she said. “And actual deaths through suicide have occurred, as in the case of a doctor who found that his livelihood was destroyed despite reinstatement of his license.”
There is a nominal (and expensive) right to a review in court, but the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners has reportedly not lost a review in 20 years. “Courts typically rubber-stamp the decisions of ‘expert’ boards,” Dr. Orient stated. “Proposed legislation would give a physician the right to a de novo trial, in which the court would look at the evidence first-hand for itself.”
In Texas, where a physician got a rare favorable decision from an administrative law judge, she noted that the judge was forced to resign under pressure from the Texas Medical Board.
Public Citizen opposes the law because it would supposedly “hinder the conduct of LSBME investigations” and thus somehow impede its ability to “protect the public from dangerous doctors.” It especially objects to allowing physicians to request that an investigator be replaced for being “biased, hostile, or unfair.”
“Public Citizen, which styles itself as a ‘consumer advocacy group,’ rates medical boards based on the number of doctors they punish,” states Dr. Orient, “without regard to justice. Truly questionable doctors may get complaints dismissed, while good doctors are ruined, perhaps because they reported a patient safety issue and incurred the displeasure of a politically well-connected entity.”
“The public would not be made safe from criminals by imprisoning people based on anonymous complaints without proof of guilt. Doctors are citizens too, not Public Enemy Number One,” she concludes.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a national organization representing physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943.