The ruling keeps Alfonso Rodriguez from learning how fracking fluid makes his patients sick.
A Pennsylvania doctor’s challenge to a medical “gag order” keeping secret the content of fracking fluid has been dismissed in U.S. District Court.
The case stems from a 2012 law passed in Pennsylvania that allows doctors to access information related to “trade secret” chemicals used in the fracking process, so long as the information pertains to a patient’s medical condition.
In Pennsylvania, companies operating fracking wells, which inject a combination of water, chemicals and silica sand into the earth to access natural gas, are not required to release information on “trade secret” chemicals. The law was intended to provide physicians with that information, yet they were sworn to not disclose it to anyone — patients and colleagues included.
That’s where Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez took issue. A nephrologist, Rodriguez treats patients with renal disease, hypertension and diabetes — and he’s no stranger to the side effects of fracking. Rodriguez has treated several patients exposed to fracking fluid that escaped due to well malfunctions, according to Courthouse News, a legal news service. He claims the law is a violation of his First and 14th Amendment rights.
In the complaint, Rodriguez describes treating fracking-exposed patients, “including a patient … with a complicated diagnosis with low platelets, anemia, rash and acute renal failure that required extensive hemodialysis and exposure to chemotherapeutic agents.”
Yet because Rodriguez did not attempt to gain knowledge of the trade secret chemicals, U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo dismissed the case. In his ruling, Caputo said:
“Although plaintiff alleges that he requires the kind of information contemplated under the act for the treatment of his patients, he does not allege that he has been in a situation where he needed or attempted to obtain such information, despite the fact that he alleges that he has treated patients injured by hydraulic fracturing fluid in the past … Similarly, plaintiff does not allege that he has been in a position where he was required to agree to any sort of confidentiality agreement under the act.”
The judge also claimed that because Rodriguez had treated patients exposed to fracking fluid without obtaining the information, he failed to prove that he required the trade secret information to carry out treatment.
Rodriguez was backed by the Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy and the Physicians for Social Responsibility, which filed a brief in support of his case. For Rodriguez and those involved in the organization, the act of keeping secrets from a patient was the reason for concern.
Obtaining the “trade secret” information from the oil and gas industry would put doctors in a tough spot — on one hand they’re able to gain a better understanding of what they’re dealing with. Yet on the other, they are not able to tell even their patients or fellow doctors. Rodriguez also argued that complying with the gag order would be a violation of medical ethics.