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Home > Opinion-Editorials: 2004
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The Government vs. Your Doctor: A True Story

By Cristina Rizza, MD
March 22, 2004

Like many doctors in today’s medical profession, I am the victim of a violation of individual rights. While I continue to practice medicine, many others do not. Personally, I can testify: the assault on doctors is real, it matters, and it is getting much worse.

I chose to become an American citizen in 1981, though I had been licensed to practice medicine in the U.S. since 1976. My record as a doctor is exemplary. Yet, for over one year, the state treated me— unjustly and without cause—as a criminal.

The harassment began last February, when I received a warning from the Medical Board of California: I was under investigation. The letter stated that treatment I had provided at a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in 1999 was suspect. The document warned that I should schedule what was referred to as an interview.

I contacted the Board’s District office, which was unwilling to provide information about the accusation, investigation, process, punishment, or my professional standing. An official explained that I was prohibited from obtaining the office’s pertinent records. While I could examine the case file, making copies was forbidden.

Facing an unknown threat, I promptly cancelled patient appointments and visited the office where, under armed watch, I reviewed the colossal volume of records. Finding few clinical notes reflecting my treatment, it was impossible to discern the grounds for an investigation, let alone a coherent accusation. Sorting the mountain of papers only begged the question: why was I under suspicion?

Deprived of freedom of information, I contacted the VA hospital’s lawyer. Since I had completed my training at the government-run VA hospital, regulations made records unavailable to me. The lawyer promised I would be notified when the hospital learned about the case. I never heard from them again.

I hired a lawyer, who tried without success to obtain records. Desperate to understand an investigation that could ruin my career, I visited the VA hospital, persuaded an employee to help, and I finally found copies of my notes regarding the patient who was the subject of the government’s case.

I had been reduced to pleading; I was forced to act as if I were guilty.

Months later, I was interrogated in the presence of an armed law enforcement officer. During the proceeding, I learned the real nature of the case; my name was marginally associated with the Board’s actions and I was not the doctor being investigated. The government still refused to decide my fate at this meeting. I would have to wait five months, when the Medical Board of California finally wrote a letter ominously stating: “no further action was anticipated.” Hardly at ease, I was nevertheless relieved and I was tempted to put the ordeal out of my mind.

Then, I remembered why I came to America.

I chose to become an American citizen because this is the only nation based upon individual rights. I chose to become an American because, in America, one is free to choose, practice and earn a livelihood. I chose to be an American because each person is endowed with certain inalienable individual rights—the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Yet, my rights were fundamentally violated. My life was held in jeopardy each time I faced a gun. My liberty was restricted each time I was refused information, publicly accused of a crime the state refused to name, denied an opportunity to face my accuser in a speedy hearing, and prevented from defending my rights.

For one year—the longest year of my life—I wondered whether my livelihood would be eliminated by the state. I faced each patient not knowing whether, let alone why, I would be stripped of the right to practice medicine. I faced arbitrary standards, random rules and the constant threat of force.

I am not alone. There is an equivalent of the California Medical Board—Medicare, Medicaid, endless bureaucracies—spread across America and they routinely subject doctors and medical professionals to such persecution.

I love practicing medicine. I also love my freedom, which makes my work possible. I should not be forced to choose between them. During the last year, government control of medicine stripped me of individual rights—which is why government intrusion in health care is the biggest threat to every American’s individual rights.

There is only one solution: speak out against more government intervention in health care and defend the right to your life as if it is an emergency—because, as I know, it is.

Cristina Rizza, MD, is a practicing cardiologist in southern California. Dr. Rizza serves on the board of directors of the nonprofit educational organization Americans for Free Choice in Medicine (AFCM).


Copyright © 2004 Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. All rights reserved.
For reprint permission, contact AFCM.



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