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Doctors Files Suit Over Pennsylvania Fracking “Gag Order”

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A doctor just filed a lawsuit over Pennsylvania’s fracking “gag order,” and is telling his patients that new fracking laws will force him to break rules of ethics when treating them.

The move brings focus to many of the health issues surrounding the growing practice of hydraulic fracturing—or fracking, as it is more commonly known—in which a cocktail of chemicals, water, and sand are blasted into shale to release natural gas. Those chemicals and the remaining fracking wastewater have sparked enormous controversy regarding potential adverse health and environmental health reactions.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania, seeks that medical provisions of Act 13 be suspended until the state drafts clarifying regulations, said Philly.com. State Attorney General Linda Kelly, Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer, and Public Utilities Commission Chairman Robert Powelson are named as defendants.

The physician, kidney specialist, Alfonso Rodriguez, alleged in the federal lawsuit that the new oil and natural gas drilling law will put him in a position in which he would have to violate ethical rules when treating his patients, said Philly.com. Rodriquez also alleges that if a person were exposed to, even sickened by, fracking fluids, the law’s confidentiality mandates would compromise the way in which he is allowed to discuss those chemicals with his patients, according to court documents.

Rodriguez treats well workers exposed to fracking fluids released in blowouts as well as other patients exposed to fracking, noted Philly.com, according to the physician’s lawyer. “He is the doctor fracking-fluid exposees go to. It’s not hypothetical that he’s going to need to make use of this law,” his attorney noted, adding that it is likely that Rodriguez would have to obtain information from gas companies on a routine basis.

Because the law is vague, Rodriguez has had his attorney draft a communication to his patients advising that “his ethical obligation to communicate with them may be curtailed,” said Philly.com. Rodriguez is president of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, which is comprised of a group of northern Pennsylvania residents concerned about the growth and effects of fracking.

Act 13’s medical provisions were added just before it passed in February. The medical community was immediately concerned about the Act’s so-called “gag law,” explained Philly.com. State officials say the gag provisions are meant to remove, not create, “roadblocks,” but not everyone agrees and many worry that the overly vague mandates restrict speech and impact ethics. In April, State Senator Daylin Leach (Democrat-Montgomery) introduced legislation meant to clear up health care professionals’ rights and responsibilities, wrote Philly.com. The senator then said, “The act is silent on a number of issues, the most important being with whom a physician can share information, even if there is a possible public-health risk at stake.”

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