Well, the threatened “right of conscience” regulation was pushed through by President Bush on Thursday as a “midnight regulation.” This regulation would allow anyone to refuse to participate in medical procedures they feel goes against their religious beliefs. “Employees” are defined broadly: from the pharmacist filling a prescription for antibiotics to a cashier refusing to ring out oral contraceptives, to the one who cleans the surgical tools after a procedure involving a blood transfusion. From The Washington Post:
The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable.
The regulation is clearly targeted toward providing a way for medical professionals to opt out of performing or assisting in abortion procedures and prescribing and dispensing the “Morning after Pill.” But this isn’t *just* an issue of reproductive rights, as if that weren’t reason enough to be outraged. Refusing AIDS treatment to unmarried or gay patients, refusing blood transfusions to patients (Jehovah’s Witnesses), refusing to treat mental illness with anything but prayer (Christian Scientists) are all at risk.
According to an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists report via The Los Angeles Times:
In calling for limits on “conscientious refusals,” ACOG cited four recent examples. In Texas, a pharmacist rejected a rape victim’s prescription for emergency contraception. In Virginia, a 42-year-old mother of two became pregnant after being refused emergency contraception. In California, a physician refused to perform artificial insemination for a lesbian couple. (In August, the California Supreme Court ruled that this refusal amounted to illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.) And in Nebraska, a 19-year-old with a life-threatening embolism was refused an early abortion at a religiously affiliated hospital.
And from Medical News Today:
Supporters of the proposal said it will protect doctors who do not wish to perform abortions or provide birth control to unmarried women, or perform artificial insemination procedures.
This clearly isn’t even about the moral objection to a procedure (such as abortion, birth control, blood transfusions, sex change operations, etc.), which is outrageous enough; but a person who has made life choices with which a medical professional disagrees can essentially be refused treatment. My question is, if one finds the practices of one’s profession so objectionable, should you be working in that profession? RA Charo “criticizes those medical professionals who would claim ‘an unfettered right to personal autonomy while holding monopolistic control over a public good'” (quoted in the New England Journal of Medicine). There are many jobs or professions I will not work because of ethical objections. For starters, Wal-mart.
But what’s most insidious (as if it all weren’t), is that the vaguely worded regulation could be stretched to include those not directly involved in the medical procedures (such as equipment cleaners), or those making appointments or ringing customers out for medical procedures or products they disagree with or disagree with their application. As if American sex education isn’t fucked up enough as it is, can you picture a Christian refusing to see condoms to a teenager?
Interestingly, that ACOG report also defines “conscience” as:
the private, constant, ethically attuned part of the human character. It operates as an internal sanction that comes into play through critical reflection about a certain action or inaction. An appeal to conscience would express a sentiment such as “If I were to do ‘x,’ I could not live with myself/I would hate myself/I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”
Further, I myself feel it is morally unconscionable that we don’t have universal health care and that corporate CEOs make 250 times what average workers make. Does this mean I get to stop paying taxes?