Thursday, June 3, 2010

Health Care impact of Arizona Immigration Law

Today's new issue of *New England Journal of Medicine* (Volume 362, #22,June 3, 2010) includes a letter to the editor: "Arizona Immigration Law and Medical Practice." The author is Lucas Restrepo, M.D., Barrow Neurological Institute,Phoenix, AZ , mailto:lrestrepo@ucla.%20edu.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts] The new Arizona state immigration bill (SB-1070) signed into law on April 23 will seriously obstruct, if not undermine, the practice of medicine in the state of Arizona. It specifies that those who "conceal, harbor or shield or attempt to conceal, harbor or shield" a foreign person who came to the United States illicitly "are guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor" punishable by affine of at least $1,000 (Sec. 5, Section 13-2929).

It can be argued that health care providers who neglect to report illegal immigrants under their care will violate the law and be considered criminals. The bill provides physicians with no guidance as to what constitutes"reasonable grounds" to suspect that somebody is in the country illegally, leaving the particulars of such scrutiny to any one's imagination (although the fact that Arizona shares a border with Mexico rather than a European country suggests that whites will not be"reasonable" suspects).

One interpretation is that health care providers in Arizona will need to ask for a passport before seeing certain patients (and providers themselves will need to carry their own passports at all times, depending on their physical appearance or accent).

Arizona practitioners, hospitals, and medical associations need to ponder the extent of their liability under the new law and draft clear institutional policies to defend their patients and employees from potential harassment.

This bill threatens one of the oldest traditions of medicine: physicians shall protect patients regardless of nationality or race. This legislation, if unchallenged, will force health care providers to choose between the dignity of their profession and the indignity of violating the law. [end excerpts]

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