Gun lobby has no place in the doctor's office

Excuse me, but when I'm seeing my doctor, could the gun lobby kindly step out of the examining room? Thanks so much.

Yes, I know the National Rifle Association is perfectly comfortable striding about Tallahassee poking lawmakers in the chests and telling them what to do. (Always wondered: Do they have photos involving Barbies, or goats, or what?)

But when it comes to what's between me and my doctor — and you and yours — the gun lobby should have no place at the examining table or anywhere else in the mix. And some doctors are hoping a federal judge will soon agree and stop the first-of-its-kind Florida doctor gag law.

A legislative session that surely set a record for different ways to punk the people of this state brought us a new law that says a doctor or other health care worker may not ask a patient whether there are guns in the home unless the doctor has a "relevant" reason. (Next, the beef industry convinces legislators that doctors have some nerve asking how many weekly cheeseburgers you consume.)

Now, I don't know what kind of doctor you go to, but mine doesn't waste a lot of chatty time on things he finds "irrelevant." Doctors ask gun and other safety-related questions — are potentially dangerous household products safely stored? — confidentially and with an eye toward prevention. They are, after all, the ones who deal with the aftermath of accidents and tragedies including gunshots. Pediatricians ask about guns as they would pools or bike helmets.

Because if you're lucky, your doctor is looking out for your overall well-being, not just the specific ache you came in with that day.

The law, which initially was even more strict, does say a doctor can ask if he or she "in good faith believes this information is relevant to the patient's medical care or safety." But what's "relevant" isn't clear.

Is the possibility of depression or suicide enough to ask? Of course, you would think. Someone in the house with signs of dementia? How about kids at home who can end up hurt or killed by guns that adults thought were unloaded or out of reach?

What doctor wants to gamble a license and $10,000 fine to find out what "relevant" means?

People have called the law, now the subject of a suit on behalf of thousands of doctors in a Miami federal court, the Second Amendment vs. the First. But how does a doctor's free speech right to talk on any subject he sees fit interfere with anyone else's right to keep and bear arms? It just doesn't.

And speaking of the First Amendment, patients should absolutely have the selfsame right not to answer questions they feel are too intrusive.

The legislation came after an Ocala couple said they refused to answer a doctor's gun-related questions and the doctor would not see them anymore — which sounds like one specific instance and a bad doctor-patient fit, not a reason to curb free speech.

Because what could be a more private relationship? Maybe one with a priest, rabbi or trusted minister, except the doctor has probably seen a lot more of most of us. Few interactions require more trust.

So it's appalling that any special interest gets to insert itself into even a part of that private conversation. Here's hoping this one will be ushered from the doctor's office posthaste, where it has no business in the first place.

Gun lobby has no place in the doctor's office 08/04/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 4, 2011 9:38pm]

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