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Do doctors and therapists have a right to free speech?

December 4, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
What limits can be placed upon free speech in a doctor or therapist's office?

A judge in California just blocked a recently passed state law that outlaws so-called "conversion therapy" for gay teens that purports to help them change their sexual orientation. Sacramento Federal District Court Judge William Shubb ruled that the law violates the free speech rights of the three plaintiffs. The ruling applies to only those three people, but it could likely be extended to other practitioners of this therapy. Shubb said that he thinks the law could be found unconstitutional.

Gay rights advocates and mainstream mental health associations all dispute that sexual orientation can be changed and argue that the therapy causes harm to gay teens.

I'd question how far Shubb's ruling could go. Does a state have a right to force a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion that she will have a greater risk of breast cancer if she goes through with it or will have a greater risk of mental health problems, even if the doctor doesn't believe that's true? According to the Guttmacher Institute, 17 states currently mandate that doctors provide some sort of such "counseling" to a woman considering an abortion.

On the other hand, if California's law is permitted to stand, could other forms of questionable therapy be outlawed for minors? What if someone wants to take their child to a homeopath or a psychic for therapy? A licensing board might well decide to pull the license of someone providing questionable treatment, but does the law actually have a right to prevent the person from treating patients, providing he isn't misrepresenting himself as being licensed by a group that condemns his treatment methods?

Should Shubb's ruling stand and why?

 
 

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