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An organization calling itself “National Health Freedom Action” (NHFA) is promoting state legislation that would block public health measures designed to prevent the spread of communicable diseases like COVID-19. If enacted, the legislation would prevent both government and private businesses from instituting public health measures, like mask requirements and social distancing, by making compliance with those measures voluntary.

Before we get to the specifics, let’s take a look at NHFA and its operations.

Under the rubric of “health freedom”, a legally meaningless term, NHFA supports several alternative medicine hobbyhorses. Their chief legislative success has been passage of “safe-harbor” laws protecting quacks from being disciplined under state health care practitioner licensing acts, thereby making it virtually impossible for a state to combat the victimization of consumers by charlatans and their nostrums. They and their allies have been instrumental in getting these “Quack Protection Acts” passed in 11 states. One version is now pending in Massachusetts; a Wisconsin bill came close to passing but, fortunately, failed.

In Maine, for example, an unlicensed practitioner providing “alternative or complementary health care services” can diagnose and treat any disease or condition (with very few exceptions), without informed consent and without any obligation to refer the consumer to a physician. There is no requirement that a CAM practitioner keep patient records (of, say, symptoms and treatment) nor are there confidentiality protections for patient information. Unlike licensed health care practitioners, such as physicians and nurses, there are no education and training requirements; no criminal background checks; no prohibitions against false advertising, conflicts of interest, or financial or sexual exploitation of patients (at least those prohibitions established by the state’s licensing laws); and no required reporting (e.g., of infectious diseases or child abuse). They essentially practice medicine with no standard of care and completely free of state regulation.

Concomitant with protecting quacks, NHFA opposes licensing of health care practitioners like dietitians and massage therapists. They also oppose vaccination mandates and support “personal and philosophical” exemptions, including the virtually unchecked authority of health care providers to underwrite vaccine exemptions. NHFA supports GMO labeling, “protection of access to” dangerous raw, unpasteurized dairy products, and parental “rights” to choose “alternative” health care for their children. (We’ve discussed the tragic consequences for the child when parents exercise their “rights” a number of times here on SBM, including here, here, and here.)

NHFA, with its sister organization, the National Health Freedom Coalition (NHFC), promotes false information about COVID-19, including posts by GreenMedInfo and the Weston A. Price Foundation, both on NewsGuard’s list of websites known for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. For example, a post by Weston A. Price Foundation founder (and English major) Sally Fallon Morell opines, among other idiotic notions, that the rollout of 5G is somehow responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak and that vaccines make people susceptible to it, both thoroughly debunked by David Gorski. (Morell has a book out promoting this and other nonsense, such as “the disease called Covid-19 is not contagious and scientists have not properly isolated and purified a virus associated with the disease”.) Another post recommends the use of homeopathy, falsely claiming that it “is very effective in epidemics”.

NHFC, in turn, hosts the United States Health Freedom Congress, which is sponsored by COVID-19 misinformation “super-spreaders” mercola.com and the National Vaccine Information Center (or, as we prefer here at SBM, the National Vaccine Misinformation Center), as well as companies selling various nostrums, like EMF “protection” and homeopathic remedies.

The “Right to Refuse” model act

In sum, NHFA operates within an ecosystem of COVID-19 misinformation, profit-making quackery promotion, anti-consumer legislation, anti-vaccination hysteria, and all-around junk science. It is therefore unsurprising that NHFA is spearheading an effort to pass legislation blocking public health measures during the current pandemic. Billed as the “Right to Refuse” law, NHFA drafted a model act for state legislatures, fresh off the presses, ready and waiting for introduction in your state’s next legislative session.

The “Right to Refuse” model act gives all individuals the “right” to refuse health-related “countermeasures” including, “but not limited to”, refusing

  1. medical treatments or procedures;
  2. testing;
  3. physical or mental examination;
  4. vaccination;
  5. experimental procedures and protocols;
  6. collection of specimens;
  7. participation in tracking or tracing programs;
  8. the wearing of masks;
  9. the maintaining of measured distance from other humans and animals that is not otherwise unlawful;
  10. the involuntary sharing of personal data or medical information; and
  11. other recommended or mandated countermeasures.

All existing laws, regulations, and orders addressing outbreaks or potential outbreaks of contagious, infectious, or communicable diseases, to the extent they impose the disease countermeasures listed above, are overridden. More broadly, if a law, regulation, or order was created in response to an emergency, whether it relates to disease spread or not, including national security emergencies and “any peacetime emergency”, provisions conflicting with the “Right to Refuse” are also overridden.

Given the fact that unspecified “other recommended or mandated countermeasures” are forbidden, and the right to refuse is “not limited to” the listed countermeasures, it is hard to imagine what might be left in the government’s toolbox to combat a public health or national security emergency, other than some confusing and contradictory measures we’ll get to in a moment. Ebola epidemic? Too bad. Biochemical warfare? Too bad. Nuclear attack? Too bad, because

An individual who has been directed or ordered by a government . . . or public or private business entity, to subject to a directive or order [described in the list above] may choose to decline to comply, respond to, or participate with said directive or order.

Note that this would include hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities, which, during the current pandemic, would be prevented from barring individuals who refuse to wear masks, socially distance, or have their temperature checked.

To emphasize the startling breadth of its prohibitions, under the heading “Coercion”, the model act provides:

The government or its designees, or other employers, businesses, non-profits, institutions, churches, travel carriers, or other public or private entities, may not infringe upon, put conditions on, restrict, or take away a person’s ability to fully participate in necessary and important services and lifestyle choices and preferences including but not limited to education, daycare, employment, travel, religion, hobbies, entertainment, sports, and lifestyle preferences, based on a person choosing to decline countermeasures as described [in the list above].

To ensure that we are all fully informed about our right to uninhibited lifestyle choices and preferences, not to mention hobbies and entertainment, the model acts requires anyone (government official and businessperson alike) daring to direct, or even request, our compliance with the listed countermeasures to read us our “rights” by reciting both the above-quoted paragraph and the 11 countermeasures we can refuse, along with assorted other verbiage, to the tune of almost 350 words. In addition, the person refusing the countermeasure (we’ll call him the “refusenik”) must be given a copy of the section of the model act requiring this recitation of his rights. Then, the reader of the recitation of rights has to “obtain a signature of acknowledgement of receipt of notification” of the right to refuse by the refusenik.

By my calculation, this recitation of the right to refuse takes about 3 minutes. (I have a Southern accent, your results may differ.) Then there’s the additional time necessary to give out the written notification of the requirement that one’s right of refusal be recited and get a signature. Given the anti-mask sentiment in certain quarters, high-traffic government offices and businesses would likely have to hire someone whose sole duty it is to read refuseniks their “rights”, give them the written handout, and get it signed. (Given their anti-regulation sentiment, query how many refuseniks are going to stand there patiently while all of this takes place.)

But wait . . . there’s more, although it’s so poorly drafted it’s hard to make heads or tails of it.

According to the model act, if our refusenik is actually infected, or reasonably believed to be infected, or has been exposed to infection, he “may” (not “must”, but “may”) participate in isolation or quarantine. However, if this isolation or quarantine is truly optional, other provisions don’t make any sense. For example, if our refusenik is “non-infected”, this apparently optional quarantine must be based on “sufficient evidence of contact or close proximity with an infected person”. But why would this evidence be necessary if the person is voluntarily choosing quarantine? Likewise, isolation and quarantine must “include reasonable notice and due process”. Again, if the isolation or quarantine is self-imposed, how would due process (that is, notice and an opportunity to be heard) come into play?

If the restrictions are not voluntary, what means would the government have of knowing a person is infected in the first place, given the right to refuse requests for medical information and testing? In any event, even if the drafters meant quarantine or isolation can be mandated, I’ll guarantee you the refusenik’s attorney is going to argue that the “Right to Refuse” law says otherwise; that “may” means it’s voluntary. (The thought occurs to me that this obfuscation could be intentional.)

Isolation or quarantine, whether mandated or self-imposed, “must be of the least restrictive means possible” and includes the right to live in one’s home with family or friends as well as a prohibition against removing minor children from the home. Testing, treatment, tracking, or prevention cannot be imposed as a requirement of ending quarantine or isolation. And the drafters of this model act, being who they are, included this:

A person in isolation or quarantine has the right to utilize the health care treatments of their choice. . .

One would like to think that a law undermining public health during a pandemic has little chance of passing, but the facts suggest otherwise. First, there is the anti-mitigation, anti-science, pro-quackery “leadership” coming from the top echelons of our government. Second, a “right to refuse” law, similar but weaker in its terms, already passed in Minnesota. Third, as mentioned, NHFA has been successful in passing laws giving quacks carte blanche to prey on consumers by eliminating state oversight. Fourth, state legislatures have shown themselves more than willing to throw obstacles in the way of public health measures like vaccination. Finally, state legislatures have also proven themselves incapable of understanding science many times, having passed numerous laws licensing quackery. In other words, don’t count them out.

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Posted by Jann Bellamy

Jann J. Bellamy is a Florida attorney and lives in Tallahassee. She is one of the founders and Board members of the Society for Science-Based Medicine (SfSBM) dedicated to providing accurate information about CAM and advocating for state and federal laws that incorporate a science-based standard for all health care practitioners. She tracks state and federal bills that would allow pseudoscience in health care for the SfSBM website.  Her posts are archived here.