Protection of conscience bill to be proposed in Alabama

Representative Becky Nordgren of Alabama, is proposing a Health Care Right of Conscience Act in the state legislature.  The bill is intended to protect all health care providers from being compelled to participate, directly or indirectly, in abortion, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization if they object to the procedures for reasons of conscience.  A health care provider must give an employer no less than 24 hours written notice of an objection.  An exception is made in the case of a procedure necessary to save the life of a patient.  Patricia Todd, a Representative apparently hostile to freedom of conscience for health care workers, asked “[W]hy are you in the health care profession if you don’t want to provide health care?” adding that there had been no attempts to regulate male impotence drugs or prostate exams. [Anniston Star]

Kenyan Muslim leader comment on Islamic medical ethics open to question

Sheikh Abduwahab Mursal, described in a Daily Nation report as a “top religious leader” in Kenya, is reported to have said that “it [is] a taboo in the Islamic faith for a woman to be touched by or discuss sexuality with a man even if he is a medical practitioner.”  The comment appears in a news story about Sheikh Mursal’s efforts to convince Muslims in Kenya to embrace “modern family planning” practices. [Daily Nation].  The Sheik is  secretary of the Wajir branch of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya.

This kind of assertion has created an impression in western countries that Muslim physicians may not examine patients of the opposite sex, an impression that is being used to justify suppression of freedom of conscience among health care workers, and which tends to fuel prejudice against Muslim medical and nursing students and physicians.  If the Sheikh’s statement has been accurately reported, it is certainly at odds with practice in even the most conservative Islamic countries.

American Civil Liberties Union sues U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference

A lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), alleging that the health care directives of the Conference were responsible for the failure of a Catholic hospital to properly treat a woman who was miscarrying a pregnancy at 18 weeks gestation.  The incident subject of the lawsuit occurred in December, 2010 in Muskegon, Michigan.  The ACLU alleges that Tamesha Means was sent home twice by Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon without appropriate medical intervention, and received treatment only when she returned a third time and actually went into labour.  The suit also names Catholic Health Ministries Chairman Stanley Urban, and former chairpersons Robert Ladenburger and Mary Mollison as defendants.  They are named as individuals because Catholic Health Ministries (CHM) has status under Catholic Canon Law as a “public juridic person”   [Health Progress, March/April 2005] but has never been incorporated under the laws of Michigan or the United States. The ACLU contends that CHM was responsible for the enforcement of the USCCB directives.

Neither the hospital nor the treating physicians are named in the suit. As a result, the claim is not for medical malpractice or medical negligence by the physicians or hospital, but for negligence by the USCCB.  However, the hospital and treating physicians would be civilly liable for their actions regardless of USCCB directives, and their competence and clinical judgment would surely be central issues in evaluating what took place. If they were not negligent, it is difficult to see how the USCCB or CHM could be held to be negligent.

The substance of the complaint was released to the media before the USCCB was served.  In a response to media enquiries, the president of the USCCB insisted that the lawsuit was “baseless” and “misguided.”  John Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, stated that the ACLU was selectively reading the directives, and that the suit was a means to advance a partisan cause, not “to obtain redress (for Means).”

“If they were concerned about a redress of grievances for this woman and medical malpractice,” he said, the suit should have been filed in a Michigan court naming the hospital and its staff as defendants.  He also pointed out the at the directives would have permitted the induction of labour in the circumstances alleged in the complaint, and likened the suit against the USCCB as suing the American Medical Association because a physician failed to follow its guidelines. [NCR]