Posts Tagged ‘ethics’


Posted by tungtide on September 24, 2008, 10:18 am

One of the many issues that I follow and rant about (in my head, if nowhere else) involves “conscience clauses” for medical professionals. These are legal loopholes that allow the religiously minded to deny treatment to patients on “ethical” grounds. I put the word ethical in quotations because I see nothing ethical about denying treatment to a patient.

Conscience clauses in the news are often associated with pharmacists and their right to deny birth control to patients that have the medication prescribed by a doctor. This release by Health and Human Services seeks to define (and potentially expand) the legislation surrounding conscience clauses.

“This proposed regulation is about the legal right of a health care professional to practice according to their conscience,” HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. “Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience. Freedom of expression and action should not be surrendered upon the issuance of a health care degree.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Based on how I’m reading this release, a doctor can claim religious or conscience-related disagreement with ANY procedure, patient, or disease. If a doctor believes that HIV is a malady designed to exterminate gays from the planet this legislation would make that a legitimate belief and allow the doctor to deny treatment to the patient. Freedom of expression and action should not be surrendered, but the obligation of a health care provider is to provide health care.

While it would strengthen provider conscience rights, the proposed 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 does not assert a conflict of conscience.

That’s nice, but it fails to address a significant problem or two: First, there may not be a qualified professional or institution that is easily reachable aside from the location involved. That location may also choose to deny treatment and further distress the patient. Second, there is no clause listed that directs the medical professional or institution to recommend an alternate location. The doctor may simply deny treatment, avoid even telling patients of available options, or refuse to provide information about a treatment center that would perform the procedure.


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