Have you heard about the governmental approval of a new medical “conscience protection” rule? It allows health care workers to opt out of administering any form of medical care they feel is objectionable on moral or religious grounds. Hmm…sounds good in theory. People shouldn’t be forced to do things they find objectionable, should they?
A press release on the Department of Health and Human Services Web site says the law will “protect health care providers from discrimination.” DHHS secretary Michael Leavitt said that doctors have a duty only “to provide care that they are comfortable providing.”
But religion is a discussion hotbed and healthcare is a hot button on the front burner of that hotbed and I have a few questions and a somewhat queasy feeling about this rule.
The goal of this rule, supposedly, is to make sure doctors who are firmly against abortions aren’t forced to perform them. However, the new rule also permits emergency room workers to withhold information from rape victims about access to emergency contraception. It also allows doctors in federally-funded clinics to refuse to tell a pregnant woman that her fetus has a severe abnormality.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops praised the new rules, saying medical workers “should not be required to take the very human life they are dedicated to protecting.” The rule is scheduled to take effect the day before President Bush leaves office. Coincidence? Sure, like cops with white powdered sugar on a dark colored uniform.
But a large number of medical groups oppose the rule. Wacko fringe groups? Not quite. The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and 27 state medical associations. Democratic House Representatives Diana DeGette (Colorado) and Louise Slaughter (New York ) plan to introduce a Congressional resolution rejecting the Bush administration’s last-minute rules.
Perhaps they have questions like me. Perhaps they, too, are the teensiest bit afraid of Dr. Government. Perhaps they are wondering:
Does the law mean a doctor can refuse to treat someone who is gay? Or refuse to prescribe medications for someone who is gay and has HIV because they feel that homosexuality is wrong?
Can care be refused to someone who overdosed using illegal drugs because the doctor doesn’t approve of drug use or of illegal activities?
How about refusal of treatment of an unwed mother because they disapprove of premarital sex or having children out of wedlock?
Wait a second! What if the doctor is anti-gun? Does the law permit withholding treatment to someone who was injured by a gun? What if it was the patient’s own gun that went off when he was cleaning it?
Should medical professionals be permitted to refuse to treat a member of any particular group who they deem as immoral?
Of course not. This is a dicey, ill-conceived last minute plan to slip in a policy that makes sense to some people on isolated religious grounds but the risks if its implementation are too great and far reaching.
Dr. Brett Kinsler is a chiropractor practicing in Rochester, NY who does not support the conscience rule….and no, wiseguy, this does not count as part of the 500 words.