- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Several doctors and a group supporting English as the nation’s official language have filed a lawsuit challenging a Clinton-era executive order requiring federally funded hospitals, clinics and doctors to offer translation services for patients who speak limited English.

The plaintiffs said that the order is an illegal intrusion into their practices and will further motivate doctors to restrict their services or leave the industry.

The lawsuit, filed on Monday, names as defendants the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its secretary, Tommy G. Thompson. The suit challenges the 2000 policy on several fronts, including claims that it is expensive and limits doctors’ free-speech rights.

Health and Human Services issued guidelines for complying with the order last year. The department advises health-care providers to offer their patients free translation services, ranging from written materials and phone conferences to bilingual medical staff and trained interpreters.

Patients may use family members or volunteers, but should be offered the option of a professional interpreter, according to the policy.

The lead plaintiff, San Diego orthopedic surgeon Dr. Clifford Colwell, attorneys from the Pacific Legal Foundation and the nonprofit group ProEnglish argue that the order improperly interprets civil-rights law to include language as part of anti-discrimination based on national origin.

ProEnglish, based in Arlington, and Dr. Colwell filed a similar lawsuit in Virginia in 2002 that was dismissed for, among other reasons, lack of standing and failure to prove that the plaintiffs were harmed by the order.

Lawyers from Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento, Calif.-based firm that supports limiting government interference in private life, said they chose to file in San Diego because Dr. Colwell lives there.

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