Doctors support limiting governor’s powers during public health emergencies

An organization composed of hundreds of doctors and medical providers on Guam wrote to the Guam Legislature in support of a proposed limitation on the governor’s powers during a public health emergency.

Looking back at Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Guam Medical Association executive director Pram Sullivan wrote in support of Sen. Chris Duenas’s Bill No. 7-37 that no governor again should have the unilateral power to dispossess clinics and citizens of private property and liberty.

“We have learned a lot during the pandemic, and we must continue to learn but we also must make changes in how our government’s power [was] used to abuse, threaten, and intimidate our people, especially our healthcare community,” Ms. Sullivan wrote on behalf of Guam’s premier organization of doctors. “While our government may have thought they were helping by abusing their powers, the reality is that many of our private clinics felt imprisoned, and it harmed access to care for many patients.”

Among Bill No. 7’s reforms to the Emergency Health Powers Act, from which the governor derives significant, near-dictatorial powers once she or he declares a public health emergency, are limitations to a governor’s current ability to restrict civil liberties and seize property.

Ms. Leon Guerrero exercised these powers, especially during the early days of the pandemic.

Ironically, several doctors who have or continue to hold leadership positions in the GMA also were members of the governor’s Physicians Advisory Group, which reportedly provided the governor information that drove her pandemic policies.

Senators are scheduled to hear public testimony on Mr. Duenas’s proposed law Tuesday at the Guam Congress Building.

“We live in a democratic society that allows us to be free from government threats and intimidation of our personal lives and our personal properties,” Ms. Sullivan wrote to senators. “Even during a national or island emergency, we should maintain our rights to not just our personal properties but also our liberty,” she continued, pointing out that private clinics and medical providers volunteered and sacrificed resources during the pandemic.

“There is no need for our government to threaten to take our property, our medical supplies and our staff just because they want to exercise the power in doing so and have control,” she wrote. “We wholeheartedly support Bill 7-37.”

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