Human Exceptionalism

When Medical Conscience Goes Too Far

A bill has been proposed in New Hampshire to protect medical conscience.  You’d think I’d be thrilled, right?  Wrong.  This bill would permit doctors to refuse to save the life of a patient and to discriminate against people based on invidious bigotry.

The intent is understandable and necessary. From HB 1653:

1 Statement of Intent. It is the purpose of this act to protect as a basic civil right the right of all health care providers and/or institutions, to decline to counsel, advise, pay for, provide, perform, assist, or participate in providing or performing health care services that violate their consciences. Such health care services may include, but are not limited to, abortion, artificial birth control, artificial insemination, assisted reproduction, human cloning, euthanasia, human embryonic stem-cell research, fetal experimentation, physician-assisted suicide, and sterilization.

But the legislation is far too broadly written:

Health Care Provider’s Right to Conscientiously Object.

I. A health care provider has the right to conscientiously object to participating in a health care service.

II. A health care provider who conscientiously objects to participating in any way in a health care service shall not be civilly or criminally liable to any person, estate, public or private entity, or public official.

III. It shall be unlawful for any person, health care provider, health care institution, public or private institution, public official, or national certifying board which certifies competency in medical specialties to discriminate against any health care provider in any manner based on his or her conscientious objection to participating in a health care service, including, but not limited to: termination, transfer, refusal of staff privileges at a health care institution, refusal of board certification, administrative action, refusal to provide standard residency training opportunities, or any other disciplinary action.

This proposal obliterates the fiduciary nature of the doctor’s role by allowing medical professionals to abandon patients for virtually any reason.  For example, it would literally permit a doctor to refuse to treat an AIDS patient because of a religious belief that AIDS is a punishment from God or refuse nourishment for a patient like Terri Schiavo-even though that was what she and the family wanted–based on a utilitarian philosophical belief that the quality of her life was not worth the cost of her care.

This conscience issue is important because medicine increasingly is becoming involved in killing and promoting lifestyles that are well beyond its traditional role of saving life and protecting health.  But no right is absolute, and medical conscience shouldn’t be either.  This legislation needs to be revised.

For those interested in the terms I think should apply in a law protecting medical conscience, hit this link.

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