The Corner

Politics & Policy

Ohio Enacts Medical Conscience Law

(Pornpak Khunatorn/Getty Images)

Yesterday, I wrote about how California’s UC system is trying to coerce affiliated Catholic hospitals to adopt medical ethics in opposition to the teaching of the Church. Ohio is going in a different direction. Governor DeWine just signed a budget that enacted a medical conscience law permitting medical professionals to refuse participation in procedures that violates their religious or moral beliefs.

The usual suspects are braying that such a protection opens the door to refusing to treat LGBT patients. From the Daily Political Press story:

LGBTQ advocates fear the clause could replicate the experience of companies refusing to provide services to LGBTQ couples and individuals.

“It’s another way, another opportunity for health care providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people,” said Detwiler of Equality Ohio. “Seeing the Senate encourage people to discriminate against others is really not the right direction.”

But that’s not how the actual law reads. The grounds for refusal have to do with the procedure. From HB 110 Sec. 4743.10 (my emphasis):

Notwithstanding any conflicting provision of the Revised Code, a medical practitioner, health care institution, or health care payer has the freedom to decline to perform, participate in, or pay for any health care service which violates the practitioner’s, institution’s, or payer’s conscience as informed by the moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or principles held by the practitioner, institution, or payer. Exercise of the right of conscience is limited to conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.

So, if a gay person presents with a broken leg, there is no way any health professional could refuse to treat legally based on a religious or moral belief. Indeed, no bonafide religion of which I am aware would require a believer to abandon a patient because of the sexual orientation (or race, sex, gender, or any other of the multiplying distinctions that the Left continues to create to differentiate human beings).

The conscience protection would protect a practitioner from being forced to participate in a transgender “transition” surgery on genitalia. That is a procedure that a Catholic hospital or doctor could deem to be sinful, because the Catholic Church prohibits sterilization absent a need to treat a significant medical pathology. Similarly, an atheist Hippocratic Oath-believing physician could refuse participation if she considered the surgery to be a mutilation of healthy organs, and thus, immoral for “doing harm.” The new law would also protect professionals from forced participation in abortion.

Doctors cannot refuse to care for patients in life or death circumstances as the law provides that its terms “shall not be construed to override the requirement to provide emergency medical treatment to all patients.” That’s well and good.

But would the clause permit a “futile care” refusal, i.e., refusing to provide life-extending treatment based on the doctor’s belief in the quality of the patient’s life? It might. I hope the legislature is able to clarify that point.

Here’s another gray area example: A health-care practitioner refusing to artificially inseminate a single woman. The conscience issue in such a case would be opposition to the procedure in the context of the patient not being married. I don’t know how that kind of dispute would be resolved under this statute.

Medical conscience laws are necessary because we are so splintered about moral issues — such as the sanctity of life, sexual identity, procreative technologies, etc. — that our medical system is in danger of being torn apart. Comity and accommodation in elective medical situations is our only hope of allowing the best and brightest to remain (and become) medical professionals, rather than restricting health care as a field to those who accept contemporary secularist values. But then, I believe that is precisely the outcome the secular Left desires.

I do have one caveat about the new law. Most insurance companies are corporations that don’t have a religious or moral viewpoint. (I know there are some exceptions.) Thus, health-insurance companies should not be allowed to refuse payment for a procedure that is legal and covered by the policy. At the same time, a religious employer should not be required to cover morally objectionable procedures, as in the Little Sisters of the Poor-Obamacare-contraception imbroglio.

This is all so messy. But such are the unavoidable consequences of our society’s increasingly radical moral heterogeneity.


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