How Does Dr. Oz Keep His License?

It’s documented to the point of undeniability that Dr. Oz promotes crank science and all manner of medical scams and frauds on his popular TV show. So how can he do that and still keep his medical license? Julia Belluz explains why. Hint: Because none of the groups that could do anything about it want to.

The AMA—the steward of the medical profession of which most American doctors are a member—has ethics guidelines that do address some of the problems with Oz’s work. “There are ethical opinions the AMA puts out that say that a physician is always going to be truthful and not going to mislead patients,” an AMA spokesperson says.

For example, the AMA Code of Medical Ethics states, “It is unethical to engage in or to aid and abet in treatment which has no scientific basis and is dangerous, is calculated to deceive the patient by giving false hope, or which may cause the patient to delay in seeking proper care.” But this provision falls under the category of “nonscientific practitioners” (i.e., naturopaths) and would not apply to actual MDs like Oz.

Well that makes perfect sense — the only ones who are allowed to con you are the ones most likely to be believed by people. Brilliant.

So what about the state? A spokesperson at the department of health in New York, where Oz is licensed, pointed to the definitions of physician misconduct. According to the New York code, doctors are prohibited from, “Advertising or soliciting for patronage that is not in the public interest… is false, fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, sensational, or flamboyant.”

On its face, that restriction would seem like the exact type of regulation that would shut Oz down. But it’s not so easy: As Stephen Latham, a lawyer and director at the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics explains, it’s actually drafted to stop doctors from profiting from their own snake oil.

“It prevents physicians from falsely advertising their own goods and services,” he says, “not from making bogus claims about other people’s goods and services, with no financial interest.”

Oz is not practicing medicine when he calls supplements “magic weight loss cures” or “lightening in a bottle” on TV. He also denies any financial stake in the products he features on his show, so the state regulator has no grounds on which to go after him.

I bet an investigation would find that he’s being paid to promote those products.

Steven Hoffman, an international lawyer and visiting professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who has written about Oz’s medical advice, thinks so. He said medical-regulatory systems need to change so that doctors like Oz are held to account.

“The medical profession has made Oz one of its most credentialed guild members. But he has a long history of crazy practices. For some reason, he’s able to practice mass medicine on millions of virtual patients, which means regulations have not caught up to where they need to be.”

Ya think?

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