The Legal Perils of Giving Medical Advice on the Internet

A Texas law barring veterinarians from offering online consultation draws First Amendment scrutiny.

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Is offering medical advice over the Internet a First Amendment right?

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To this day, Hines has no idea who initially submitted a complaint against him, but in March the Texas veterinary board officially reprimanded him, fined him $500, required him to retake the law portion of the veterinary-licensing exam, and suspended his license for a year. Asked what he'll do if his lawyers prevail and a court rules that his rights have been violated, Hines says he'll simply place the contact button back on his web site and resume corresponding with animal owners. "I don't know, I won't be doing this much longer," he elaborates. "I'm old, and it's not a financial thing. But perhaps a younger vet would enjoy doing what I do, and I don't think that should be illegal."

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In the meantime, he has plenty to keep him busy; he raises bees, works in his garden, and he likes to fix clocks. Regardless of what happens to him, he says, the world has evolved, and eventually the powers that be will need to recognize that the internet has changed the equation.

"They are just going to have to adjust to the century we live in. The internet has just made a lot of things possible and desirable that probably weren't desirable or possible during the horse and buggy days," Hines says. "And we're just going to have to learn to confront those things."

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