Proposed rule would protect doctors from discrimination

The Hill
24 September, 2008

Reproduced with permission

Jonathan Imbody*

The uproar over a modest proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reveals a widening culture chasm in healthcare, created by disparate views of medical ethics and civil rights.

When HHS recently proposed a regulation to finally implement 35 years of civil liberty laws protecting conscience rights in health care, opponents railed against an alleged conspiracy to “deny women access to contraception.”

That’s quite an implausible protest against an agency that this year will spend over $1.6 billion on “family planning” programs.

The real reason for the abortion lobby’s protest stems from years of frustration in attempts to persuade physicians to violate their commitment to heal and to the Hippocratic Oath’s prohibition on abortion and the mandate to “do no harm.” The last remaining strategy to achieve their goal of involving more physicians is to literally force them to perform or refer patients for abortions, through state laws and medical organization policies forbidding the exercise of conscientious objection.

The only thing standing in the way of that coercive agenda is implementation of federal civil rights law.

Ironically, coercive laws and policies, though instigated in the name of insuring access to women’s healthcare, in fact threaten to significantly decrease access — by eliminating physicians who hold to life-affirming standards of medical ethics.

Discrimination and coercion appear to be infiltrating many sectors of medicine. Over 40 percent of our members report having experienced pressure to compromise their commitment to medical ethics standards. Medical school applicants with life-affirming values report discrimination in entrance interviews. Residents report being denied clinical learning opportunities because they refused to perform abortions. Physicians report the loss of jobs and academic promotions based on their life-affirming stances.

The public likewise remains ignorant of existing federal civil rights protections. A scientific national survey by The Polling Company Inc. revealed that 42 percent of American adults incorrectly believe that federal law obliges a physician to either perform or refer for abortions.

The HHS regulation is urgently needed to remedy discrimination and coercion in healthcare before patients lose access to some of our bestand most compassionate medical professionals.

By implementing existing conscience-protecting laws and by initiating education, the regulation can take a vital step toward restoring a culture in medicine that honors professional standards and respects civil rights.

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