Another week, another dangerous gust of crazy from Missouri’s seat of government. On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson signed a law that will require medical licensing boards and pharmacists to endanger patients for the sake of Republican culture-war politics. It’s just the latest reminder that Missouri today is controlled not so much by a political party as an ideological cult that’s willing to sacrifice its own constituents on the altar of populism.
The new law concerns the drugs hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, which are, respectively, an anti-malaria medication and a treatment for parasites. Both drugs were eyed early in the pandemic as potential weapons against the coronavirus until medical studies concluded neither is effective. But in today’s surreal political environment — where what should be the purely scientific issue of coronavirus vaccines has become, on the right, a populist bogeyman — many are still touting the two ineffective and sometimes dangerous drugs, seemingly for no reason but to thumb a nose at the safe and effective alternative of vaccination.
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There are exactly two legitimate responses a rational state government could have to this situation: Either assertively prohibit doctors from prescribing these quack remedies that are based on toxic ideology rather than science, or just keep government out of it, and allow the medical profession to police itself, which it does pretty well.
So Missouri’s leaders, of course, chose the third option, and sided with the quacks.
The law Parson signed protects doctors who prescribe medication that won’t protect their patients from the coronavirus but could well give them the false security to reject vaccination and possibly contract the virus. The new law prohibits medical licensing boards from taking action against doctors who engage in this plain violation of the Hippocratic oath (First, do no harm).
It also places a gag order on pharmacists from even discussing concerns about the drugs with either the prescribing doctor or the patient. It prevents pharmacists from doing an important part of their job, in other words.
This law was the result of a familiar political imperative among Missouri’s majority party today that says ideological pandering to the most extreme elements of the base is more important than responsible governance that serves the broader good.
Will any Missourians contract the virus and die as a direct result of those twisted priorities? There will probably be no way to ever confirm that, but it’s certainly possible.
And they wouldn’t be the first fatalities attributable to our state’s political extremism.
The most obvious example of the danger Missouri’s ruling Republicans pose to the health and safety of Missourians is in the realm of guns. They have spent more than a decade gutting the state’s once-reasonable gun laws, removing background-check requirements and permit requirements to carry, and along the way inadvertently opening a legal loophole that allows convicted domestic abusers to legally obtain firearms.
Even though everyone agrees that loophole needs to be closed, the same Legislature that managed to pass the Quack-Doctor Protection Act last session somehow just couldn’t get around to protecting battered spouses from armed abusers.
The result of all this gun-happy lawmaking has been predictable: Missouri has gone from being at the national average in terms of annual firearms death rates, to being one of the deadliest states in America. Those are real, quantifiable deaths — hundreds per year more than under the state’s previous laws.
To cap it off, the state recently passed a constitutionally ridiculous law seeking to invalidate federal firearms restrictions in Missouri. Of course, it doesn’t work that way (as the citizens of the Confederate States of America could tell you, if there still were any), and the courts will ultimately purge this nonsense from the books. In the meantime, though, some Missouri law enforcement agencies already have stopped participating in joint crime-fighting operations with the feds, for fear of inadvertently violating the statute.
Again: Will there be any Missouri deaths as a result? Again, we’ll likely never know for sure. But the possibility is real.
There are other examples of the danger that Missouri’s radicalized state government poses to Missourians.
Last year, we became the 50th state in the nation to (finally!) create a statewide prescription-drug-monitoring database to control opioid abuse. The endeavor had languished for years because right-wing legislators considered it government overreach.
Missouri lawmakers also refused for years to expand Medicaid as provided by the Affordable Care Act — and even tried to continue refusing it after the state’s voters overruled them and approved it — because they’d rather let vulnerable Missourians suffer than hand Democrats a policy win.
Speaking of vulnerable Missourians: Women who are raped and impregnated will likely, very soon, be forced to carry those pregnancies to term from the moment of conception. That’s the Missouri law that goes into effect automatically if and when the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which reportedly is coming. We know from pre-Roe experience that some of those women will, in desperation, seek illicit abortions — and that some of them will die.
The first and most basic obligation of government is to protect its citizens from harm. By that standard, Missouri is a failed state. Its extremist politics are, literally, hazardous to its citizens’ health.
Kevin McDermott is a Post-Dispatch columnist and Editorial Board member. On Twitter: @kevinmcdermott Email: firstname.lastname@example.org