Let French medics prescribe 'Covid cure' drug

Paris lawyers are taking court action to suspend a series of ministerial decrees banning doctors from prescribing controversial drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventative or treatment for Covid-19.

3 June 2020
By Connexion journalist

They insist that doctors should have freedom to use the drug if they believe it will help, and say the government should stop ‘prescribing by decree’.

The medicine, a synthetic form of quinine used for years as an anti-malaria drug, has notably been championed by Marseille infectious diseases specialist Prof Didier Raoult who claims success with using it as a cure at early stages. U.S. President Donald Tump meanwhile has said he is taking the drug as a preventative measure against Covid-19 with a prescription from his doctor.

On March 26, however, the French government passed a decree limiting its use in connection with Covid-19 only to hospital cases and for people at an advanced stage, especially those needing oxygen for lung disease or with failing organs. A further decree on May 11 repeated this and said the drug, used under the Plaquénil brand in France, may only be dispensed by non-hospital pharmacies on prescription from certain specialists for conditions unrelated to Covid-19.

Finally on May 27 a decree banned it from being prescribed at all in relation to Covid-19 after publication in British journal The Lancet of a comparative worldwide study which found that its use was associated with higher death rates. In another twist, however, The Lancet yesterday took the unusual step of warning against possible failings in its own article.

The court action by three Paris avocats is seeking to cancel the decrees relating to the drug which they say would give doctors back the freedom to prescribe it if they judge it to be necessary.

The lawyers hope to convince top administrative court the Conseil d’Etat of the urgency of the case and to obtain a ruling suspending the decrees before June 25 or at the latest in July. This would be pending further action to cancel them, which they estimate could take another year.

“The first step will be to show the state’s responsibility and try to understand why it is so determined to prevent doctors from using this drug,” said avocat Christophe Lèguevaques of the MySmartCab.fr group.

“I think that doctors’ liberty to prescribe, like public freedoms in general, must be protected.

“I’m not a doctor, but I know that many doctors are saying they want this possibility, to do their job, based on their knowledge and current science and their understanding of the specific person in front of them, and to have the freedom to prescribe or not.

“I’m against prescription by decree. We’re not in Orwell’s 1984 and the government shouldn’t decide what’s good or not for me.”

He added: “Prof Raoult has demonstrated that you shouldn’t wait for people to be hospitalised.

“In India, for example, they prescribe it preventatively. If you, or those close to you, may have been exposed, doctors will prescribe it. But France hasn’t taken this position at all.

“And now The Lancet itself has said ‘oh dear, we’re not sure that the article we published is based on reliable evidence’. We’re keen to see the reaction of the French Health Minister to that.”

The costs of the legal case are being supported by over 19,000 members of the public who have signed up to provide a modest monthly donation in return for regular updates on the case. 

Among them are doctors who will put themselves forward to take part in the legal action, Mr Lèguevaques said.

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