During the COVID-19 outbreak, mask rules, vaccination mandates, and business closures have all been brought to the courts, presenting judges with questions of science and government authority. They are now being asked to weigh in on the deworming drug ivermectin.
At least two dozen lawsuits have been filed around the country, many in recent weeks, by people seeking to have hospitals to give their COVID-stricken loved ones ivermectin, a drug for parasites that has been promoted by conservative commentators as if it helps people with the virus despite skepticism.
Interest in ivermectin began to rise toward the end of last year and the beginning of this year, when several studies some later withdrawn, in other countries - suggested the drug had potential and it became a hot topic of conversation among conservatives on social media.
The lawsuits, several of them brought by the same western New York lawyer, cover similar ground. The families have received prescriptions for ivermectin, but hospitals have refused to use it on their loved ones, who are often on ventilators and facing death.
In state courts, there has been a variety of outcomes. Some judges have refused to require hospitals to give ivermectin to patients. Despite fears that the medication may be harmful, others have ordered medical providers to give the medicine.
In a September case on Staten Island, state Supreme Court Judge Ralph Porzio refused to order the use of ivermectin in nascent cases where he sued st. John's Hospital on behalf of his ill father, citing its unproven impact.
This court will not require any doctor to be placed in a potentially unethical position wherein they may be committing medical malpractice by administering.a medicine for an unapproved, alleged off-label purpose," he wrote.
It's alarming, according to James Beck, a Philadelphia attorney who specializes in drug and medical device product liability and has written about the influx of cases. Ive never seen anything like this before, he adds.
In some cases, an initial order to give the drug has been reversed later on.
Hospitals have reacted, stating that their standards of care don't permit them to prescribe patients a drug that hasn' not been approved for COVID and could potentially cause harm, and that allowing laypeople and judges to overrule medical professionals is shrewd.
Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University, stated, "The way medicine works is, they are the experts, the doctors, and... the hospitals." When you go there, youre not going to a restaurant. You don't order your own treatments."
You cant have a medical discipline thats forced to function according to patient demand, backed by court orders. That is a truly awful medicine," Caplan added.
Ralph Lorigo doesn't see it that way. The lawyer from Buffalo, New York, filed his first ivermectin lawsuit in January after being approached by the family of an 80-year-old woman who was in the hospital on a ventilator. His second incident occurred later that month, for a hospitalized 65-year-old woman.
In both cases, judges ordered that hospitals give the women ivermectin as their families wanted. Both women survived their hospitalizations.
Lorigo, who has handled numerous cases since, is unfazed by the effectiveness of ivermectin. Health professionals and federal agencies say that any evidence for COVID-19's effectiveness is slim, and more research is needed. Studies are currently being carried out.
Ivermectin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat infections of roundworms, lice, and other tiny parasites in humans. The FDA has attempted to discredit claims that animal-strength versions of the drug may assist fight COVID-19, but it has warned that taking it in large amounts can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, delirium, and even death.
Lorigo claimed that his clients haven't sought such dosages, but only the human versions of the drug.
Lorigo claimed that doctors who refuse to treat patients with ivermectin are not gods because they wear white jackets. I have no problem with their stance, he added.
And as for hospital administrators, its as if they only control the roost, only they make a decision in their hospital. Im not accepting that as a rule of law for us.
The court battles over the drug have taken place as courts wrestle with questions about whether employers or states can require workers to bevaccinated against the virus, which has killed more than 700,000 people in the United States.
Beck, the drug liability lawyer, stated that doctors may prescribe ivermectin to treat COVID, even though it hasn't been approved by the FDA for that disease, if they think it offers therapeutic value a so-called "off label" use.
I have never seen a case where the judge was forced to force someone to engage in an off label use, he said.
Lorigo said he has received more inquiries from families about the drug in the last 10 weeks, and now has four attorneys working on these cases, including two - two of whom er recently hired.