One of the many remarkable features of the COVID “new normal” has been the seemingly widespread compliance of doctors with draconian and irrational health mandates. Such mandates have included unprecedented school closures, curfew orders, prohibitions on hugging, magical-thinking restaurant policies, restrictions on outdoor activities, harsh fines for drive-in church services, interdictions on businesses selling items deemed non-essential, and excessive force by police to uphold the orders.
We have heard little from doctors even on subjects presumably close to physicians’ hearts, such as the cancellations of non-emergency surgeries, the use of “virtual’” medical consultations, and the yearlong isolation of the elderly in care homes.
My mother, in her 90th year and with various health ailments (still, fortunately, living in her own home), has been unable to see her doctor in person, with one brief exception last summer, over the past 14 months. Once-regular visits have been replaced by phone consultations in an increasingly remote relationship. I have often wondered whether her doctor honestly believes that such distancing is a necessary and commensurate response to the pandemic.
Recently, however, the silence of doctors has became more explicable.
On April 30, 2021, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), an organization empowered by law to regulate the practice of medicine province-wide, made an official statement warning doctors not to speak out against any government COVID orders. Referring to “isolated incidents of physicians using social media to spread blatant misinformation and undermine public health measures meant to protect all of us,” the college made it clear that any physician criticizing health policy risks losing his or her medical licence.
Inveighing against what it calls “public health misinformation,” the statement reads in full as follows:
The College is aware and concerned about the increase of misinformation circulating on social media and other platforms regarding physicians who are publicly contradicting public health orders and recommendations. Physicians hold a unique position of trust with the public and have a professional responsibility to not communicate anti-vaccine, anti-masking, anti-distancing and anti-lockdown statements and/or promoting unsupported, unproven treatments for COVID-19. Physicians must not make comments or provide advice that encourages the public to act contrary to public health orders and recommendations. Physicians who put the public at risk may face an investigation by the CPSO and disciplinary action, when warranted. When offering opinions, physicians must be guided by the law, regulatory standards, and the code of ethics and professional conduct. The information shared must not be misleading or deceptive and must be supported by available evidence and science.
Let’s not dwell on the colossal irony of a public health body condemning so-called “misinformation” in light of the notable contradictions and lack of scientific underpinning of Canadian health authorities’ own (frequently changing) statements. These authorities have regularly flouted “available evidence” in their public statements about risks to Canadians, viral transmission routes, mask efficacy, lockdown benefits, and vaccines.
In fact, officials’ frequent flip-flops make it difficult to imagine how discipline would be meted out by the CPSO. Would a doctor who spoke out against the AstraZeneca vaccine in early March be punished for “publicly contradicting public health … recommendations,” or would that doctor be applauded for anticipating Canada’s own (later) decision to suspend AstraZeneca?
What would happen to a doctor who criticized measures now widely recognized as inhumane, such as isolating children from their families in the case of possible COVID contact, or preventing family members from visiting care home residents for over a year? Is the CPSO certain that its own recommendations, if thoroughly investigated, would escape designation as “unsupported, unproven treatments”? Officials have studiously ignored the well-known deleterious health consequences of their harsh directives while continually stoking public fear with daily death announcements and warnings about second, third, fourth, and future variant “waves.”
One wonders how it could possibly be in the public interest that, even in cases in which a medical practitioner is convinced that certain health rules are damaging, the doctor still “must not make comments or provide advice that encourages the public to act contrary to public health orders.” Does this prohibition not violate every doctor’s primary commitment to do no harm?
The situation is not unique to Ontario. Doctors in British Columbia are similarly being warned that they face discipline if they contradict health recommendations, a warning contained in a joint statement by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC and the First Nations Health Authority. The statement specifically prohibits B.C. doctors from promoting “anti-vaccine, anti-mask wearing, anti-physical distancing, and anti-lockdown stances.”
Such statements are deeply unsettling. While there is undoubtedly no shortage of falsehoods and conspiracy theories in the age of COVID-19, the sweeping censorship of medical professionals is not only an ethical sham but is also profoundly anti-scientific. All medical knowledge is premised on the rigorous application of the scientific method, with its requirement of falsifiability, debate, and disputation over evidence. Clearly, there can be no genuine debate when doctors fear the loss of their livelihoods for dissenting from official policy. The forcing of medical unanimity will inevitably weaken public trust not only in health bodies like the colleges of physicians and surgeons, rightly judged to be exercising tyrannical power, but also in all aspects of a health-care system in which doctors cannot communicate openly and honestly with their patients.
Fortunately, there has been some pushback from the Canadian community in the form of a Declaration of Canadian Physicians for Science and Truth, which alleges that the statement by the CPSO represents a “watershed moment in the assault on free speech and scientific inquiry” as well as a potential “crime against humanity.”
The declaration’s website features a petition that has been signed by over 11,000 physicians and concerned citizens at the time of this writing (an encouraging number, though still too low). These physicians object that the order violates doctors’ pledge to put their patients’ well-being above any other loyalty, use evidence-based medicine in their practice, and fully inform patients of the risks and benefits of treatments. The doctors demand that the CPSO immediately “withdraw and rescind its statement.” Unfortunately, the CPSO has not yet done so.
It doesn’t require a background in medicine to know that censorship of medical professionals during a pandemic is an outrageous and dangerous act. There is no better time than now for rigorous debate on the efficacy of public health measures, with unproven and potentially catastrophic lockdown policies and vaccine passports being forced on populations worldwide.
Janice Fiamengo is a professor of English at the University of Ottawa. Her latest book is “Sons of Feminism: Men Have Their Say.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
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