Thursday, August 21, 2008

HSS to Allow Doctors to Deny Treatments on Moral Grounds

Just when we were celebrating California's Supreme Court ruling that doctors can't refuse treatments to lesbians or gays due to religious beliefs, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has started pushing to ensure that doctors can refuse to provide abortions based on moral grounds. HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt explains this new attempt to blur the line between health care provider and clergy this way:
"Freedom of conscience is not to be surrendered upon issuance of a medical degree," Leavitt said. "This nation was built on a foundation of free speech. The first principle of free speech is protected conscience."
Let me just point out here that there are many branches of medicine that a person could practice which in no way involve providing abortions, and only one that does. So perhaps the better answer would be for individual medical professionals to not choose fields where their duties conflict with their beliefs. Also unclear is whether or not doctors would be allowed to object to providing abortions to only certain types of people - say, on the basis of sexual orientation, marital status, or race.

Also worrisome is this:
The underlying laws deal mainly with abortion and sterilization, but both the laws and the language of the rule seem to recognize that objections on conscience grounds could involve other types of services.
That's right, under the HSS's new rule, any type of medical procedure could be denied due to any member of the facility's beliefs - since "regulation is written to apply to a broad swath of the health care work force," a hospital worker who decided it was morally wrong for him to, say, provide a certain type of person with lifesaving medications might be covered.

As PalMD of Denialism recently wrote, "...a physician must be careful not impose his or her personal beliefs on patients." In a discussion of Dr. Christine Brody's refusal to provide fertility treatments to Guadalupe T. Benitez (the act of discrimination that eventually led to the CA Supreme Court ruling mentioned at the first of this post), PalMD explains:

Conflicted with the doctor's faith. There's the rub.

This is a particularly perverse form of prostelitizing. It doesn't involve having coffee with an acquaintance and teaching them the Word. It involves a vulnerable individual, who comes to a qualified professional for help, and is turned away because of "improper" living and thinking.
For a physician to deny a patient care based on their own beliefs is a cop-out, and is a coercive use of their paternalistic powers.
The HSS is in the wrong and its new rule is aimed at denying medical services to women. Worse, as Broadsheet notes, the ruling:
...goes far beyond defending a medical worker's right to refuse to perform an abortion -- it also secures his or her right to refuse to "refer for, or make other arrangements for, abortions." In other words, a worker at a women's clinic, perhaps the only one for several hundred miles, can refuse to perform an abortion and refuse to refer the patient to someone who will.
This seems to be a serious attack on our medical freedoms.

UPDATE: Both NARAL and Planned Parenthood have letters you can sign and send to help ensure this rule does not go into effect. (h/t Jump off the Bridge)


Kris-Stella said...

I shudder at the thought, but the fact that a medically qualified person is free to (not) choose a field that involves performing or facilitating abortions can fire both ways if this policy goes through. What I mean is that this legislation would open up for a scenario in which a fervent anti-abortionist seeks employment in a women's clinic precisely because they will have the power to stop people from having abortions, and no one could reprimand them for not doing their job.

Mächtige Maus said...

I was wondering which of us was going to hop all over this bit of news. I love listening to NPR when I drive to and from work. I hate listening to a piece on NPR that puts me in a foul mood, especially when it is while I am driving home. This news did it though.

Heaven forbid that we take the logical route...indeed if you are against abortion then don't frickin' go into the area of the field where it is required of you.

daedalus2u said...

So will they allow those of us who object to military spending on moral grounds to pay less in taxes?

Rhetorical question, I know.