Cover Your Ears and Hush Your Mouth When People Talk About the Risks from Fracking

There’s a longstanding principle of democracy that explains why Americans put so high a value on free expression. People need the freedom to learn about and discuss the issues of the day in order to clarify their own thinking about public policy. This allows a well-informed electorate to vote for public officials they can trust to govern wisely.

Without free speech, the process breaks down. The voter who can’t get facts has to rely on rumor and suspicion in casting a ballot. Rational policymaking suffers.

Recent experience has confirmed this in Pennsylvania. Under public pressure to do something about the potential health risks from fracking, the state Assembly passed a law that allows physicians to learn key information about the chemicals used in fracking.

Under pressure from the energy industry, however, the law contained a provision saying that the doctors could not share the information they learned with patients or other health care providers. This fracking gag rule not only offends free expression, it handicaps doctors’ ability to provide effective care for patients exposed to dangerous fracking chemicals. On the face of it, the policy seems shortsighted and contrary to the public interest.

But we last looked at the issue some months ago, right after Act 13—the gag rule law—had been adopted. Maybe things have turned out better than expected.

Nope. The gag rule has been a disaster for public welfare

A Pennsylvania doctor who specializes in kidney diseases asked a federal court to set aside the gag rule. The nephrologist, Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez, asserted that the provisions of Act 13 undermine his ability to care for his patients who have been exposed to hydraulic fracturing fluid and are now suffering from multiple medical complications as a result.

At the end of October, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo rejected Dr. Rodriguez’s complaint and dismissed the lawsuit. Judge Caputo ruled that the doctor lacks standing to bring suit, because the claim does not show specific current harms resulting from Act 13 but rather speculates about an “indefinite risk of future harms inflicted by unknown third parties.”

With the medical gag rule still in place, doctors are forbidden to discuss how hydraulic fracking chemicals can contribute to severe health problems. But, as Dr. Rodriguez states in his original lawsuit, the “practice of medicine requires a free and open exchange of questions, answers and information between” the health care provider and his patients. The principles of medical ethics also suggest that physicians have a moral responsibility to speak out against dangerous and unhealthy practices, such as shale fracking operations in Pennsylvania.

Ignorance is no excuse

Jon Ostroff and the team at Frackcident Injury Law want to remind you that attorneys are not bound by the speech limits of Act 13. We have spoken—and we will continue to speak—against the hazardous practices of the energy industry that are putting Pennsylvania citizens in deadly jeopardy.

If you or someone you love has been hurt by hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania, you may be entitled to seek a financial recovery for the losses you have suffered. To find out exactly what your legal rights are, contact the Frackcident Injury Law team by calling 855-880-6667 toll-free to schedule a FREE consultation with a Pennsylvania injury attorney.

We want to hear about your situation and help if we can. Call today. There is no obligation to hire us, and we never charge any lawyers’ fees unless we’re able to get a financial recovery for your case.