When Conscience and Medicine Collide
As the Bush administration prepares to depart for Crawford, Texas next month, it has approved a “conscience rule” for healthcare workers.
By mid-January, anyone who works in the medical field, from pharmacy cashier to brain surgeon, who objects to a procedure can opt out of participation.
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt says it “protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience.”
The proposed rule will be published today in the federal register. It is set to take effect the day before President Bush leaves office on January 20th.
Many state laws require hospitals to tell rape victims about emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. This new rule will override the state law. Someone who objects to a “morning after” pill, won’t have to inform the rape victim.
A medical professional who refused to participate in a procedure cannot be charged with discrimination if they cite the action is, “contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Any violators can have federal funds withheld.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Christian Medical Association and Americans United for Life praised the new rule, reports the Chicago Tribune.
The abortion law, established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, already establishes that no one is required to perform or assist in any procedure contrary to their moral, individual, or religious beliefs.
"We are shocked that the Bush administration chose to finalize its midnight regulation and to take this parting shot at women's health and ignore patients' rights to receive critical healthcare services and information they deserve," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement.
The National Organization for Women asks” Whose conscience is it anyway?” in its September Action Alert, saying the rule is vicious and it will undermine women’s access to reproductive health.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the "ill-conceived policy change" rule shows "the outgoing administration's implicit contempt for women's right to accurate and complete reproductive health information and legal medical procedures.
How will a consumer know in advance how their medical provider feels so they can shop around for someone like minded?
Health and Human Services addresses that in the regulation: "To avoid potential conflicts from occurring, we strongly encourage early, open and respectful communications between providers and patients surrounding sensitive issues of healthcare, including issues of conscience."
Early and open communication is not likely to occur in an emergency room however.
Those most likely to be impacted are predicted to be low-income individuals who rely on federally funded clinics and don’t have the option to shop around for like-minded providers.
President-Elect Obama has criticized the rule, reports the Los Angeles Times and said he was, “committed to ensuring that the health and reproductive rights of women are protected.”
His incoming administration has promised to review all 11th-hour regulations.
The ruling may also fly in the face of the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors to swear that he/she will uphold a number of professional ethical standards, among them is the best known, “to do no harm”. #