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Update, March 1, 2022, 12:00PM CST: This story has been updated to include feedback from Gov. DeSantis’ office.

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (LifeSiteNews) – Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial extension of liability protections for health care providers related to COVID-19, paired with a new executive action to address a subset of critics’ concerns.

In 2021, DeSantis and Florida lawmakers enacted legislation to immunize businesses and health care providers from various COVID-related lawsuits under certain circumstances, including if a health provider “made a good faith effort to substantially comply with authoritative or controlling government-issued health standards” related to COVID, be they federal, state, or local. Supporters say the protection is necessary to protect health providers from the financial burden of “frivolous” lawsuits.

As covered last week by LifeSiteNews, 35 organizations and activists signed a letter urging the governor to veto SB 7014, a Republican-backed measure to extend this protection until June 2023:

Government issued health standards (or “treatment protocols”) include the CDC’s Covid-19 guidelines which many say aren’t working. Some medical professionals have stated that these CDC protocols have led to unnecessary medicines, ventilation and deaths. With SB 7014 in it’s current form health care providers could simply follow the CDC’s guidelines against their patient’s wishes and remain free from liability.

We know you share with us the core values of protecting life, individual liberty and the freedom of medical choice. Yet what has happened – on countless occasions – and will continue to happen in Florida if this law is adopted, is that Floridians are being denied treatment, checked into hospitals and cut-off from their loved ones and medical decision makers. At that point the patient loses control and the hospital uses the protocols they decide in many cases not even following the patient’s care decisions.

Even in cases where the patient remains able to make decisions or their loved ones are active in the decision making processes on their behalf the hospitals have often denied the patient their preferred treatment based on the hospital’s internal procedures. In such cases, the courts have been reluctant to allow hospital patients to use the treatments that they or their families wish. Indeed in many cases a patient has wanted to try a different treatment plan that their non-hospital doctor has requested and the hospital has not allowed the patient to receive those treatments.

But DeSantis signed the law on February 24, just before a deadline where it would have become law automatically unless vetoed. The same day, he and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced a new guidance from the Florida Department of Health encouraging doctors to “exercise their individual clinical judgment and expertise based on their patients’ needs and preferences,” including options that “may include emerging treatments backed by quality evidence, with appropriate patient informed consent, including off-label use or as part of a clinical trial.”

“With today’s actions, state guidance is now clear that practitioners will have the flexibility to make the decision to treat patients with off-label prescriptions if they determine that it may help the patient and it is something the patient would like to try and provides informed consent to try,” the governor’s office said. “Florida has always believed in providing all possible treatment options to health care providers and led efforts to make monoclonal antibody treatments available statewide.”

“I’ve never seen this many communications about a bill before, any bill,” DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told The Epoch Times. “We’ve heard all these stories that have been shared with our office.”

But while conservatives are sure to welcome new protection for independent-minded doctors willing to give patients the option of evidence-based therapeutics, the guidance fails to address fears over prolonging more establishmentarian doctors and hospitals’ ability to use federal treatment standards as a shield against being held accountable for the potential harm of practices and products such as early treatment denial, remdesivir, or the COVID-19 vaccines.

The new guidance alleviates the issue of doctors who feel pressured into the latter approach by federal protocols, but not the issue of doctors who continue to prefer the latter approach and impose it on their patients.

LifeSiteNews reached out to the governor’s office for comment on these concerns. Christina Pushaw replied by touting Florida’s new guidance on off-label treatment options, without addressing the protection for doctors who comply with federal guidances. A LifeSite follow-up repeating the question went unanswered.

It remains to be seen how this move will affect DeSantis’s standing in the eyes of conservatives who have been considering him as a potential 2024 presidential candidate. Until signing SB 7014, DeSantis had amassed a consistent record of siding with conservative priorities against the Republican establishment, particularly regarding COVID-19.