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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Physicians & Surgeons Association to ask PR Supreme Court to reconsider ruling

Carlos Díaz Vélez, center, president of the Physicians & Surgeons Association of Puerto Rico (Photo by Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)

By The Star Staff

Physicians and Surgeons Association of Puerto Rico (CMCPR by its Spanish initials) President Dr. Carlos Díaz Vélez announced Tuesday that he will request a reconsideration before the Puerto Rico Supreme Court after it determined that making membership in the association compulsory for doctors on the island is unconstitutional.

“Convinced that the requirement of compulsory membership that is required as a condition to practice the profession of medicine, is a measure of social protection that can coexist in our legal system with the constitutional right to free association and that both rights are not canceled, but complement each other, we will ask the Supreme Court for a reconsideration,” Díaz Vélez said at a press conference.

“The Association is not satisfied with the decision announced yesterday, Oct. 2, 2023, so it will request reconsideration before the Supreme Court itself,” he added. “The majority opinion does not take into account the deplorable state of the public entities that supervise the functioning of the health system.”

“A licensing board, far from being redundant, is a complementary and supportive function of the maintenance of the health system performed by the CMCPR, and is a fundamental one, which is increasingly evident not only in natural disaster scenarios, but in essential aspects such as continuing education, the medical foundation and research, educational and social protection functions, that has no parallel in any other professional association of those that exist in Puerto Rico,” Díaz Vélez said.

“Health is a supreme value and a right of each person and has a social dimension that far exceeds the ultra-individualistic visions that seek to place medicine and its practice, and its professional organization, as an appendix element of a complex ecosystem that is under siege from the market,” he continued.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the requirement of compulsory membership in the Physicians & Surgeons Association to practice medicine on the island is unconstitutional.

“The statutory requirement of compulsory membership to legitimately practice medicine in Puerto Rico is unconstitutional,” Associate Justice Rafael Martínez Torres wrote in his opinion.

In a concurring opinion, Associate Justice Edgardo Rivera García wrote that “[t]he absence of compulsory membership does not affect in any way the structuring of the regulatory model in medicine. Demanding this requirement, which unnecessarily undermines the right not to associate without complying with the requirements for it, represents an impermissible outcome in our constitutional order.”

The controversy originated when Dr. Héctor Luis Delucca Jiménez filed a lawsuit against the Physicians & Surgeons Association and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Delucca Jiménez argued that compulsory membership infringed on his right to freedom of association and expression.

In contrast, Chief Justice Maite Oronoz Rodríguez expressed in her dissenting opinion that voluntary membership is not effective. She argued that although the Medical Licensing and Disciplinary Board has the power in law to regulate the profession, it needs the association and compulsory membership to do so properly.

“In summary, I have evaluated the constitutionality of the requirement of compulsory membership of the Association in the light of strict scrutiny, taking into consideration the two pressing interests of the State. First, despite sharing duties and powers related to the regulation of the profession with the Board, the reality is that the Board cannot regulate the profession on its own in an effective and viable manner. Although in theory it is empowered by law to regulate the profession, it does not constitute the least onerous, effective and viable measure, and it needs the Association and compulsory membership to fulfill its duties,” Oronoz Rodríguez wrote. “Second, the Association has multiple duties and powers aimed at fulfilling the compelling interest of safeguarding public health that it does not share with the Board. In addition, I stressed that an attempt has already been made to allow voluntary membership in the surgeons profession, but this had a detrimental effect on the ability of the Association to discharge its responsibilities.”

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