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Special Communication
Firearm Violence
August 2017

Physician Speech and Firearm Safety: Wollschlaeger v Governor, Florida

Author Affiliations
  • 1Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy, Yale Law School, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 2Global Health Justice Partnership, Yale Law School and Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 3Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(8):1189-1192. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.1895

To provide the highest-quality medical care, physicians must be able to communicate openly with their patients and provide advice in conformance with professional standards of care. Although states have the power to regulate many aspects of medical practice, laws that interfere with speech by preventing physicians from discussing specific subjects with patients are constitutionally suspect. In 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit struck down key provisions of a Florida law that prohibited physicians from speaking with their patients about firearm safety as a violation of the First Amendment. We discuss this case, Wollschlaeger v Governor, Florida, and the implications of the ruling. Although courts may rule that physician “gag laws,” such as the one in Florida, are unconstitutional, this area of the law remains unsettled. Legislative mandates that interfere with medical practice may decrease the quality of care by substituting politics and legislative judgment for medical expertise.

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