This Is Not the Place For a Religious Debate

I’m talking about hospitals, not this blog.

This abortion debate went beyond the point of rationality years ago, but the outgoing administration’s mission to impose one religion’s moral stamp on our institutions further damages the reliability of our nation’s medical care.  The Bush administration has put in place a new rule that allows health care professionals to refuse to give certain types of services, including information about those services, based on their religious beliefs.

Under current federal and state law provisions doctors and nurses can opt out of conducting abortions while the new rule now encompasses all health care workers who can now refuse to provide information, including a referral, to patients seeking an abortion.

If you’re thinking that this isn’t such a big deal, because you can just choose to go to a heathen doctor who will perform your grotesque baby killing for you, there’s something you’ve missed.  This doesn’t just cover the doctors you choose to see on a day to day basis.  It covers every health professional you meet, even during emergency room visits.

While imposing the new rule the administration cited a 2007 Connecticut law that requires hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims and hospitals that object to it can use independent providers for the procedure.

Hospitals are not the place for religious debate.  They are institutions which provide a public service, and so long as emergency contraception is legal, allowing the people charged with providing our health options to withhold information because of their personal religious beliefs is both wrong and dangerous.

Look at the description of the Connecticut law.  If a hospital objects to offering an emergency contraceptive service, they can bring in an independent group to do so.  If you have beliefs that prevent you from simply referring a patient to another doctor, you should not be working in a hospital.   There are plenty of private practices and specialty institutions where you could maintain your personal morals without denying people the care options they deserve.  If you choose to stay in the hospital, you need to play the role you’ve accepted: a servant of the public good.

Let me offer one analogy and one thought experiment.

Let’s say your religion has rules against accepting blood transfusions.  Would you be allowed, then, to not provide someone in the emergency with a blood transfusion because it goes against your religious views?  This is not an imaginary position: The Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to take blood transfusions, and there are over a million followers of this faith.  Should a member of this church who becomes a nurse or doctor be permitted to not only deny blood transfusions but also refuse to suggest to a patient that their family member donate in advance of surgery on their behalf?  Should they even be permitted to withhold facts about the possibility of a transfusion saving your life during surgery?

Now, let’s say a police officer is faced with a situation where subduing a subject requires the use of a firearm, and that shooting this perpetrator will likely kill him.  Should there be a law giving the policeman license to not fire that gun solely out of personal belief?  Would we want our public servant, charged to protect us, to allow a religious prohibition against killing to stop him from completing his public duty to serve and protect?  Or do we want our policemen to put aside all but his duty, as we expect our military servicemen to do in times of war?

A person does not always have the luxury to sort through medical professionals to find the one that will not deny them options.  Since this new rule does not even require that those refusing to give care to must give a referral to someone who would, they are empowered to deny the possibility of  legal medical coverage to patients who may not share their beliefs.  A doctor should not be forced to perform an operation he does not believe in, but he should be required to call in a replacement who will.

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