What Are the Physician Gag Laws in Florida?

What doctors can and cannot discuss with patients

Physician gag laws are laws that prohibit doctors from discussing issues and seeking certain information from their patients. As a general rule, these laws center around “hot button” political topics, such as guns and abortion.

Florida passed the first so-called physician gag law in 2011. Under that law, doctors were restricted from discussing gun and firearm safety with patients. However, that state statute—Florida’s Firearm Owners' Privacy Act (FOPA)—was struck down by a federal court. Here, you will find an overview of physician gag laws and Florida’s now-overturned gun gag law.

What is a Physician Gag Law?

Only recently entering the legal lexicon, a physician gag law is a statute that puts restrictions on what doctors and other health care professionals can say to patients in a medical setting. Medical professionals and health care providers and patients should have a general understanding of the physician gag laws in their state.

In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act (FOPA) into law. Florida’s FOPA law is widely considered to be the first true physician gag law passed in the United States.

Essentially, the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act put strict limits on what Florida doctors could ask patients about their gun use/ownership. Additionally, it also put strict limits on what doctors were able to say about firearm safety to patients. Doctors who violated the law were subject to serious professional sanctions, which potentially included financial penalties and even the suspension or revocation of their state medical license. 

An Appeals Court Struck Down Florida’s Firearms Physician Gag Law

Florida’s physician gag law was almost immediately challenged in federal court. The American Medical Association (AMA), which openly opposed the law, argued that inappropriately interfered with the open communication this is necessary in order to facilitate an effective doctor-patient relationship.

In 2014, a three-panel judge for the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Florida’s physician gag law. After reviewing the statute, the panel determined that the law did not unconstitutionally interfere with the rights of doctors and patients. However, the panel’s decision was quickly appealed.

In 2017, a federal court ruled that Florida’s physician gag law violated the First Amendment rights of medical professionals. In a 10-1 ruling, the appeals court struck down the law—noting that this was not a Second Amendment issue, but a First Amendment issue. After receiving the adverse decision, Florida state officials declined to file an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. As of 2019, Florida’s physician gag law is no longer in effect.

If you are a practicing physician or a medical provider and you have any questions about what you can and cannot discuss with patients under state law, contact an experienced Florida health care attorney for guidance.

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