Viewpoint: Physicians, not third parties, should determine patient treatment

A Wisconsin lawsuit could determine whether third parties can compel hospitals and physicians to provide treatments even when those treatments are not proved effective. However, no physician should have to choose between a legal imperative or their ethical obligation to patients, American Medical Association President Jack Resneck Jr., MD, wrote in an article published on the group's website Jan. 31.

The lawsuit stems from a 2022 incident at a Wisconsin hospital during which a patient was forced to be intubated. The patient's nephew tried to compel physicians to give his uncle ivermectin, a treatment experts say is ineffective against COVID-19. Physicians refused and the nephew sued the hospital. His uncle has since recovered and was discharged. 

The case will be heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The AMA and the Wisconsin Medical society filed an amicus brief asking the justices to uphold a state appellate court decision that a physician or private hospital cannot be legally compelled to administer a drug or treatment determined to fall below the standard of care, Dr. Resneck wrote. The patient recovered from his illness without use of ivermectin, the brief pointed out.

A legal ruling holding otherwise, the brief stated, "would allow courts to compel treatments that the medical consensus finds to be substandard" and force physicians "to choose between the law and their ethical responsibilities, potentially exposing patients to harm and physicians to liability."

Physicians should have the ability to reject care that is unlikely to yield clinical benefits, Dr. Resneck wrote.

"The AMA has and always will oppose attempts by judges, agents of government or any other third party to interfere with the practice of sound, evidence-based medicine," he wrote. "In no circumstance should a physician be compelled to provide substandard care to a patient, nor be forced to choose between a legal imperative or their ethical obligations to each patient."

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