Loss of License for Docs Giving False COVID Info: Yes or No?

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


November 01, 2021

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hi. I'm Art Caplan. I'm at the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

Should doctors who continually spread misinformation about COVID-19 lose their licenses? I think the answer to that is yes, and I don't think we're being aggressive enough in chasing down sources of dangerous misinformation. I think medical boards ought to be going after people's licenses much more aggressively in a time of plague, at a time when so many Americans are dead. Who knows how many others are hospitalized? Who knows how many hospital ICUs and ERs are overwhelmed with patients with COVID-19?

You just cannot tolerate, even in the name of free speech, doctors lying and disseminating false information about COVID-19. Our own news site had a story that reported about a doctor in Mount Vernon, Indiana, who went to a public hearing on COVID-19 and basically said, "Don't trust the CDC. Don't trust the Indiana State Department of Health. They're not telling you the truth."

He described himself as a family medicine physician, although not board certified in family medicine. He basically said that vaccines, if we use them, will make you sicker and enhance COVID-19 infection. He said to use vitamins, ivermectin, and zinc as a way to keep people out of the hospital.

Basically, this doctor was spreading lies and putting people at risk. This is not what part of professional ethics can tolerate. It's not why society gives physicians privileges to practice, not to go out and spread their own dangerous pet theories — lies — about what works and what doesn't work, again, in the middle of a plague.

This is a great example of someone who ought to be prosecuted by the Indiana State Medical Board. This is a great example of someone who deserves to be condemned by his peers, by the Indiana medical societies, and by national organizations.

Too much of the misinformation that is on the internet spins out when a doctor goes far away from the standard of care, jumps into their own pet theories about what's going on with COVID-19, or, for that matter, any disease, and deviates from what his peers and professional associations believe to be true. If you look at ivermectin, there is no group that has come out and said to use it, including Merck, who makes it and presumably would love to charge a large amount of money and sell it to people.

When you're that far outside the mainstream, when you're saying things that can kill people because they don't vaccinate, or they follow ridiculous prescriptions about how to avoid COVID-19, I think that's the time to have your license taken away. It's a difficult thing to do because, obviously, there can be disagreements about what's the best thing to do to treat or test for something. I understand that, but when it's clear that you are way outside the boundaries of acceptable, peer-reviewed, evidence-based medicine, I don't think you should be doctoring anymore.

I'm Art Caplan at the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. Thank you very much for listening.

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, is director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center and School of Medicine. He is the author or editor of 35 books and 750 peer-reviewed articles as well as a frequent commentator in the media on bioethical issues.

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