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HHS Conscience Regulation Published Today

Posted Dec 20 2008 6:43pm

Today, HHS publishes itsfinal ruletitledEnsuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law.  It takes effect in 30 days.

In itspress release, HHS explained that the final regulation:

  • Affirms the right of federally funded health care providers to decline to participate in services to which they object, such as abortion
  • “Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience,” HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. “This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience.”
  • Clarifies that non-discrimination protections apply to institutional health care providers as well as to individual employees working for recipients of certain funds from HHS
  • Requires recipients of certain HHS funds to certify their compliance with laws protecting provider conscience rights 

In the preamble to the final regulation, the Department also encourages providers to engage their patients early on in “full, open, and honest conversations” to disclose what services they do and do not provide.  While it would strengthen provider conscience rights, the regulation would in no way restrict health care providers from performing any legal service or procedure. If a procedure is legal, a patient will still have the ability to access that service from a medical professional or institution that offers it. For example, the regulation does not affect the ability of medical institutions to provide abortion services in accordance with the law.

Rob Stein'sWashington Postarticledescribes some of the efforts underway to repeal this regulation -- either through the executive branch or legislatively -- once the new administration is in place.  

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