California Religious Conscience Violations Make the U.S. Sound a Lot like Belgium

by Alexandra DeSanctis

In Belgium, a Catholic nursing home has been fined a total of €6,000 for refusing to permit a resident to access euthanasia. After the home prevented Mariette Buntjens’s doctor from entering to give her a lethal injection, Buntjens was taken to her private address where the procedure was carried out.

From The Catholic Herald:

Buntjens’ family later sued the nursing home for causing their mother “unnecessary mental and physical suffering”. A civil court in Louvain upheld the complaint and fined the home €3,000 and ordered it to pay compensation of €1,000 to each of Mrs. Buntjens’s three adult children.

This ruling could force many Catholic nursing homes in Belgium to close their doors, because the Catholic Church does not permit euthanasia under any circumstances.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., physician-assisted suicide is permitted in Washington, Oregon, California, and Vermont; in Montana, doctors are permitted to provide patients with lethal medication that a patient can take on his own.

To address conscience issues arising from assisted suicide, an Obamacare provision prohibits federal, state, and local governments—as well as healthcare providers and health plans—from discriminating against healthcare entities that do not:

provide any health care item or service furnished for the purpose of causing, or for the purpose of assisting in causing, the death of any individual, such as by assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.

It seems possible, however, that the U.S. government could decline to enforce such a clause, as evident in the Obama administration’s recent refusal to enforce the conscience protections of the Weldon Amendment. From Public Discourse:

The Weldon amendment has been part of annual Labor/Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations acts since 2004. It prohibits federal agencies, and state and local governments receiving Labor/HHS funds, from discriminating against health care entities that decline to provide, refer for, pay for, or provide coverage of abortions.

President Obama has signed the amendment every year since his election and has assured pro-life Americans that he would continue to do so. But over the past year and a half, his administration’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has declined to enforce the amendment in California, where the state government has forced almost all health plans—including those provided by churches and religious organizations—to cover elective and late-term abortions.

After repeated complaints about California’s policy, OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels wrote last month that the administration does not intend to enforce the federal law, and she asserts in her letter that the law is probably unconstitutional.

While the House of Representatives will vote next week on the Conscience Protection Act—written to protect religious and moral conscience in situations like that in California—similar battles over physician-assisted suicide may not be far off.

If an administration can so easily decline to enforce a federal law protecting religious conscience on abortion, cases like the one in Belgium may be coming to the U.S. before long.

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