Brief

Supreme Court to weigh in on whether judge can order ivermectin to treat COVID-19

By: - September 30, 2022 5:12 pm
Four white pill tablets for medicine prescribed for horses and sometimes humans

Ivermectin, 3 mg tablet, as sold in the USA. (Getty Images)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will take up a lawsuit that sought to force a hospital to administer ivermectin to a COVID-19 patient.

The Court agreed to look at the issue after a state appeals court rejected the demand of a Waukesha County man who wanted a judge to order a hospital to use ivermectin to treat his uncle who was hospitalized with COVID-19. Ivermectin is a drug used to treat parasites in horses as well as human beings. 

The case was one of five that the Supreme Court listed Friday as cases the justices will take up in the coming months.

After Waukesha County resident John Zingzheim was put on a ventilator with COVID-19 in October 2021, his nephew, Allen Gahl, obtained an ivermectin prescription for his uncle from a doctor he had connected with online. Gahl holds a power of attorney for health care for his uncle. 

Doctors at the hospital, operated by Aurora Healthcare, refused to fill the prescription or administer the drug, saying it would be below the standard of care for COVID-19 patients.

Medical studies, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have all recommended against using ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

Gahl went to Waukesha County Circuit Court, where a judge held a hearing and directed the hospital to administer the prescription. The judge subsequently revised his order to say that Gahl would have to supply both the drug and a doctor who met with the hospital’s approval to administer the drug. 

The Court of Appeals District II stayed the order and later reversed it on a 2-1 vote in May 2022. In the opinion, the majority concluded that “the circuit court had no legal authority to compel Aurora, a private healthcare provider, to provide care that is below its standard of care.”  The opinion also said the lower court lacked the authority to require Aurora “to credential an outside provider” to provide such care.

Attorneys for Aurora urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal petition. They argued that Gahl and his attorney, Karen Mueller, cited no criteria to warrant the high court’s involvement. (The attorneys also noted in a footnote that Zingsheim is no longer a patient at the hospital.)

In taking the case, however, the justices said they would consider the questions Mueller raised. 

The first of those is whether the state’s health care power of attorney law gave the circuit court authority to issue a declaratory judgment and an injunction on behalf of a patient.

The other questions are whether the hospital, in rejecting the treatment Gahl sought, was breaching a contract with the patient, and whether the court had either “inherent authority” or authority under the Wisconsin informed consent law to order the treatment.

Mueller finished third in the Aug. 9  Republican primary for attorney general with 25% of the vote after running on a promise that if elected she would investigate hospitals for not treating COVID-19 with ivermectin. 

Her platform also included conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccinations and election fraud. Mueller lost a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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