Letter: Eye surgery should be left to medically trained doctors

I would like to respond to Crystal Mirza’s letter concerning two bills, SB568 and HB1065, making their way through the Louisiana Legislature. These bills would allow optometrists to perform “common treatments and procedures” on their patients’ eyes.

Ms. Mirza states her case succinctly. But having talked with opponents of the bill, including an opthalmologist, I am convinced the bills should be defeated.

It is true some eye care patients must travel outside their parishes to receive some eye surgery. But the treatments Ms. Mirza refers to involve surgery using lasers and other procedures that should be performed only by opthalmologists, MEDICAL doctors who are trained to perform these delicate medical techniques.

Optometrists are not medical doctors; they are doctors in the same way that chiropractors are doctors — they are trained in their own schools, not in medical schools.

Both optometrists and chiropractors perform legitimate and useful services.

But just as chiropractors do not (and are not seeking to) perform surgery on bones and joints, optometrists cannot, and should not be allowed to, perform eye surgery.

It should be noted that one of the bills, SB568, sailed through a committee hearing chaired by Sen. David Heitmeier, an optometrist who owns optometry clinics that would benefit from the passage of this legislation. It is commendable that one of those clinics provides optometry services to those who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

Sen. Heitmeier did not cast a vote on the legislation before his committee. He had gathered enough committee votes through favors and pressure on his fellow committee members to pass the measure without his vote.

But at one point in the hearings, he refused to allow a one-hour delay so that two ophthalmologists scheduled to testify against the bill could finish operating on children’s eyes and testify!

Optometrists argue they can easily be trained in the simple surgery without having to go to medical school.

But when opponents offered to withdraw their opposition if the optometrists would accept an amendment allowing the state medical board to supervise the optometrists who perform the eye surgeries, which would offer protection for the patients, they refused.

Instead, another part of the bill is the nose of the camel under the tent. Language in the bill would allow the optometry board to decide what surgical procedures optometrists would be allowed to perform!

Laser surgery today, cornea transplants tomorrow, or next year?

Optometrists should continue to perform the valuable service they now provide, and leave eye surgery to medically trained eye surgeons.

Doug Manship Jr.

retired journalist

Baton Rouge