As the Maryland legislature abruptly ended the 2020 session due to the COVID19 epidemic, we look back with gratitude that bills which threatened our right to informed medical consent, freedom to health choice and parental rights were withdrawn or died in committee. We thank our HCM members and Marylanders everywhere who petitioned their legislators to veto or withdraw these bad bills and we thank our legislators who listened and did the right thing. (See our Legislative Tab).
At some point the pandemic of 2020 will pass, but what might we anticipate could follow that would impact our health choice rights in the future? How might we proactively prepare?
Based on laws passed following previous crises (1), we see that legislators both at the Federal and state levels have typically authorized an expansion of extraordinary powers given to Executive leaders in times of crisis and these powers seem to increase following each event. In the words of one prominent legislator, “Governments love crises because when the people are fearful they are more willing to giv up freedoms for promises that the government will take care of them. “(2)
While we might agree that there are “reasonable situations in which a reasonably acting government could reasonably use reasonable procedures to make people act reasonably,”(3), our concern is that we have witnessed government overreach and violations of the public trust time and time again. A case in point is the recent report that the Hungarian Parliament granted their Prime Minister unlimited powers indefinitely, allegedly to fight the coronavirus. These powers include the right to imprison journalists whom he thinks are spreading fake news about the virus and even heavier penalties for anyone violating quarantine orders.(4) It is therefore important to be alert to bills and actions that could undermine our rights, particularly those relating to health choice, parental rights and informed consent.
Model legislation called the “Model State Emergency Health Powers Act” (MSEHPA) was funded by the CDC in 2001. This document has been adopted into law with modifications by 40 states, including Maryland, as a framework for dealing with crises (5). Some of the powers given to our Governor in the Annotated Code of Maryland Title 14 (6) include the power to declare a state of emergency, the power to control travel in and out of the state, to direct evacuation and to enforce quarantines, the power to authorize the use of private property, and the power to suspend statutes and rules among other things.
This past legislative session, HB650 sought to expand gubernatorial powers by additionally authorizing the right to “seize, take or condemn” private property, the authority to “compel use or disclosure of protected health information….” without due process, the authority to renew the Emergency Powers time limit by Executive order, and other things (7).
It is interesting that HB 650 was introduced on January 29, 2020, well before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared on Mar. 11, 2020 a COVID19 pandemic. However, after the declaration of the pandemic, the bill was hurriedly passed by the House just a day and half before the abrupt end of the session. Due to calls from constituents and a lack of time, the bill died in the Senate. Given the current climate of crisis and fear, we can anticipate that there will be an attempt to move forward with bills to expand gubernatorial powers and public-private “partnerships” in 2021.
Some critics have expressed concern that citizens may become conditioned to voluntarily and blindly surrender their rights in the name of ‘patriotic duty’and selfless humanitarianism. Over time there may be a slow creep of expanded powers of government at the cost of tightened restrictions on basic freedoms that are never restored when the crisis is past. Former Justice of the Supreme Court of England, Lord Sumption,and others speak from experience regarding the implications of the current ‘hysteria’over coronavirus (8,9,10). https://unherd.com/thepost/lord-sumption-on-the-national-coronavirus-hysteria.
The stage is being set for a possible roll out of legislative bills that in addition to authorizing powers already given might track users data without consent, use drones for individual surveillance (already happening in California), restrict free speech, compel disclosure of private medical records, and/or force COVID 19 vaccination with punishment for dissenters that might include fines, involuntary quarantine, public shaming and/or jail time.
More about the pending COVID 19 vaccine will be discussed in Part II of this blog. If the potential for loss of your rights is a concern for you, you are invited to join HCM network by signing on as a member.
1.A brief review of previous crises and subsequent legislative actions are reviewed here :
Fisher, B L. US Marines Navy Prepare to Execute Pandemic Plan As Questions Resurface About coronavirus Origin Barbara Loe Fisher, Vaccine Reaction 3/24/2020 https://thevaccinereaction.org/2020/02/u-s-marines-and-navy-prepare-toexecute-pandemic-plan-as-questions-resurface-about-coronavirus-origin/
2.Paul, R. Be wary of overreaching government responses to coronavirus: Ron Paul. Press-Telegram. March 16, 2020
https://www.presstelegram.com/2020/03/16/be-wary-of-overreaching-government-responses-to-coronavirus-ron-paul/ Accessed 3/29/2020.
3. Corbett, J. Medical Martial Law. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xW2oHhN3heo&t=300s Accessed 3/29/20
4. Picheta R, Halasz, S. Hungarian parliament votes to let Viktor Orban rule by decree in wake of coronavirus pandemic. CNN 3/30/30
.https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/30/europe/hungary-viktor-orban-powers-vote-intl/index.html. Accessed 3/31/20.
5. Fisher, supra note 1.
6. 2010 Maryland Code. Public Safety Title 14-Emergency Management. Subtitle 1-Maryland Emergency Management Agency Act.
7. HB 650 http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2020RS/bills/hb/hb0650T.pdf
8. Corbett,supra note 3.
9. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Model State Emergency Health Powers Act.
https://www.aclu.org/other/model-state-emergency-health-powers-act Accessed 3/29/2020.
10. Lord Sumption, Former Justice of the Supreme Court of England. Interview on “National ‘Hysteria’ Over Coronavirus”on BBC World at One:.
https://unherd.com/thepost/lord-sumption-on-the-national-coronavirus-hysteria Accessed 3/31/20.
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