Since 2002, Dr. Ronald Hines, a 69-year-old, Texas-licensed veterinarian has provided veterinary advice over the Internet to help animals across the country and around the world free of charge or for a nominal fee. For many of the pet owners who visited his website, Dr. Hines is the only realistic option, writes Cameron Langford of Courthouse News Service.
Many of the visitors to Dr. Hines’ website, www.2ndchance.info, could not afford to take their pet to a veterinarian, he claims. Yet, despite the absence of even one allegation that any advice by the longtime veterinarian ever harmed any animal, the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners suspended Dr. Hines’ license, fined him, and forced him to retake the jurisprudence portion of the veterinary licensing exam. Why? Texas law forbids a veterinarian from giving advice unless he or she has first physically examined the animal.
Dr. Hines says the Texas law is unfair to sick animals and their desperate owners.
"It should not be illegal for veterinarians to give veterinary advice," Dr. Hines says in a complaint he has filed in Federal Court against the nine-member Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. Dr. Hines is claiming that suspending him for giving free advice on the Internet is unconstitutional and violates his First and 14th Amendment rights.
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He is represented by Jeff Rowes and Matthew Muller of the Institute for Justice, who contend that the State Board's actions violate the First Amendment because, “… the Board cannot carry its burden of proving that silencing Dr. Hines is a necessary and appropriately tailored way to advance Texas's interests."
"Dr. Hines was astonished to learn that he had been breaking the law by helping hundreds of pet owners across the country and around the world through his website," the complaint states. "Dr. Hines immediately stopped providing veterinary advice via electronic means because he feared punishment."
Dr. Hines states that he "is the sole owner of, and sole writer for, a website, www.2ndchance.info, which he uses as a portal for providing veterinary information and advice." After retiring as a practicing veterinarian for many years, he started the website in February 2002, to post his articles about pet health and health care. The Board did not discipline him until he had run the site for ten years.
Since launching his website, Dr. Hines has posted over two hundred articles, all of which he makes available to the world for free, the complaint states. Dr. Hines says that after he launched his site he was flooded with e-mails from pet owners, seeking his advice about particular animals. So he decided to also provide veterinary advice to specific pet owners about their pets.
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"This veterinary advice--which may also include telephone calls between Dr. Hines and his readers about their respective animals--not only provided advice to the animal owners, but alsoenabled him to receive information which helped him write new articles to fulfill unmet needs of his readers
Dr. Hines says in 2003 he added a PayPal button to his website so he could charge a flat fee of $8.95 for his advice. In September 2011 he raised the fee to $58. However, “When it appears to him that his fee is a burden to someone in need, he refunds it and charges nothing. Dr. Hines tries to provide help to everyone who writes him, whether they can pay or not," the complaint states. "Dr. Hines had gross income from his website of $2,797.24 in 2011.”
To the best of his knowledge, Hines says, no one has ever complained to him or to the State Board about his advice. He estimates that 5 percent or less of the pet owners with whom he communicates and to whom he offers veterinary advice are residents of Texas." The remainder are in other states or foreign countries.
“If a pet owner in Africa asks Dr. Hines for advice via the Internet because there is no ability to obtain qualified veterinary advice locally, the Texas Veterinary Licensing Act requires that pet owner and that pet to go entirely without veterinary care rather than be able to consult Dr. Hines," his attorneys contend.
Dr. Hines claims: "Veterinarians across Texas and the United States routinely offer veterinary advice solely via electronic means without ever having performed a physical examination of the animal in question.” For example, “…in Austin, Texas, where the State Board is located, the morning show on the local Fox television station has a regular segment featuring a Texas-licensed veterinarian who takes calls from viewers and offers veterinary advice about their pets…”
"The Texas Veterinary Licensing Act does not make any exception to the requirement of a recent physical examination for veterinary advice offered by Texas-licensed veterinarians in context where a pet owner has no access to veterinary care or cannot afford it," Dr. Hines states.
Dr. Hines wants to resume offering veterinary advice through his website when his license suspension ends on March 26, 2014; and he also seeks to have the sections of the Texas Occupational and Administrative Codes used to cite him declared unconstitutional.
Should a Veterinarian be allowed to give advice to help animals over the Internet?
Source: Courthouse News