Pennsylvania

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Doctor Sues Over Act 13 “Gag Rule”

A Luzerne County doctor has filed a federal lawsuit against a controversial aspect of Pennsylvania’s new drilling law. The law, now known as Act 13, requires gas drilling companies to provide health professionals with health and safety information on chemical exposures experienced by individual patients. But the law also says those companies may require healthcare workers to sign a nondisclosure agreement. How that aspect of the law gets interpreted is controversial. Governor Corbett’s office says it is meant to help doctors treat their patients properly. But some doctors say it would compromise their medical ethics, and jeopardize public health.

A panel of Commonwealth court judges recently ruled in a separate case that another doctor challenging the law did not have standing to bring such a suit. But a lawyer for Luzerne County nephrologist Alfonso Rodriquez says his client is in a different position.

“He’s on the frontline of treating people who have been exposed to fracking fluid,” said Paul Rossi, who filed the suit on behalf of Dr. Rodriquez. “He has actually treated someone who was exposed to fracking fluid.”

As a nephrologist, Rodriguez is a kidney specialist who treats patients on dialysis, as well as people who may be suffering from bladder cancer. He did treat a worker exposed to frack fluid during a blowout.

“It was a complex medical case,” says attorney Paul Rossi. “It is not hypothetical that [Rodriquez] will be impacted by this law.”

Doctors like Rodriquez worry that they won’t be able to share the information about the exposure with their patients, although the authors of the law say patients will be able to get the information. Health professionals also worry that the confidentiality agreements would restrict them from registering the exposure, and the subsequent health impacts, for public health research. Rossi says the law restricts his clients constitutional rights of free speech.

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