With a loss of health care workers from stress, burnout, and vaccine mandates, hospitals are scrambling to keep beds open and retain licensed health professionals.

Unfortunately, national professional associations are threatening licensed health professionals with disciplinary action or loss of licensure for questioning recommendations from government agencies, especially the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A recent position statement released by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and supported by seven other major nursing associations and organizations is a symptom of a new virus— intellectual conformity.

Even though scientific inquiry and open debate have led to numerous medical advances in technology, energy, engineering, individualized medical treatment, improved health care delivery, and other discoveries that improve the daily lives of millions, scientists and health professionals once celebrated for critical thinking and analysis of new evidence are now asked to blindly follow experts in Washington, D.C.

Coerced conformity with the pronouncements of just two agencies—the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—ignores the work of scientists and medical professionals from the World Health Organization and countless others from around the world. One can only imagine the uproar had this statement been released during the Trump administration.

Medical doctors are receiving similar threats from the Federation of State Medical Boards and hospital administrations. In recent weeks, a doctor was suspended for spreading misinformation and later resigned from Houston Methodist Hospital. The same doctor also attempted to prescribe “off-label use” of a drug that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 at another hospital.

The drug was requested by the family, but the hospital refused to allow the physician access to treat the patient­—a sheriff’s deputy—with the drug. So much for the sacred doctor-patient relationship.

The Houston case is not the first time that health care professionals have been suspended, fired, or forced to resign for “spreading dangerous misinformation” or attempting alternate treatments for patients during the pandemic. In fact, lawsuits have been filed in multiple states with hopes the court will compel hospitals to allow use of now politicized drugs.

Largely ignored is the fact that doctors commonly use medications for off-label use. In fact, off-label use makes up about 20% of all prescribed medications, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

And when a patient is at risk of dying, even experimental drugs without Food and Drug Administration approval are often authorized for “compassionate use.” But empathy has been lost to politics during the pandemic and professionals that don’t conform on mandates and guidelines are subject to fierce scrutiny and threats.

For decades, health professionals have been properly trained to challenge and question what is known using all available evidence to support clinical decision-making. Yet, scientific inquiry has suddenly been retired for selective inquiry as nationally recognized experts control data, ignore context, and collect evidence to support a singular position.

Science evolves. But instead of following the science, America is entering an era of bureaucratic standardization with information being summarily dispensed by centralized government health agencies. Those not complying with sanctioned positions are being canceled and now threatened with loss of their livelihoods, even after decades of education, training, and service in these sacred professions.

Congress did not vet many of the bureaucrats currently issuing controversial or unlawful mandates or moratoriums. Remarkably, in the face of a federal court’s recent stay of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate, federal officials want American businesses to comply with the mandate anyway. Now health care licensure boards are asked to police medical professionals as a de facto enforcement arm of the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC.

Bureaucratic authoritarianism and the push for centralization of medical power to select government agencies are dangerous to Americans’ health care.

State lawmakers must act to protect licensed health professionals from retaliation by licensure boards for differing medical opinions. It is time to return shared treatment decisions to doctors and their patients. Without medical debate and second opinions, patients and families will suffer from the hubris of the new hierarchy in health care. Sadly, some may have already.

The late President John F. Kennedy once warned that “conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” The medical community must acknowledge that conformity and threats are damaging to the future of health care and quickly recall politically motivated position statements that serve only to harm health professionals and do little—if anything—to protect the public.

Inquiry and debate should be welcomed in medicine. The cancellation and professional targeting of doctors and nurses must end. COVID-19 data continues to be fluid. What is now known is not yet complete. History will be the arbiter of truth.

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