Saturday, February 19, 2011

Obama administration strikes down most “conscience clauses”

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After the wretched healthcare news of yesterday, I think it’s time we had some good news to counteract the wretched. The Obama administration has repealed most of the Bush-era “conscience clauses” that allowed doctors, nurses, pharmacists and assorted caretakers to opt out of dispensing medical assistance to anyone who did or believed things that offended their precious moral or religious sensibilities. The Washington Post reports:

After two years of struggling to balance the rights of patients against the beliefs of health-care workers, the Obama administration on Friday finally rescinded most of a federal regulation designed to protect those who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds.

The decision guts one of President George W. Bush's most controversial legacies: a rule that was widely interpreted as shielding workers who refuse to participate in a range of medical services, such as providing birth control pills, caring for gay men with AIDS and performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women.

Friday's move was seen as an important step in countering that trend, which in recent years had led pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, doctors in California to reject a lesbian's request for infertility treatment, and an ambulance driver in Chicago to turn away a woman who needed transportation for an abortion.


The new rule leaves intact only long-standing "conscience" protections for doctors and nurses who do not want to perform abortions or sterilizations. It also retains the process for allowing health workers whose rights are violated to file complaints.

Perhaps coincidentally, this decision comes only a couple of weeks after the Idaho Board of Pharmacy decided that it was perfectly acceptable that a Walgreen’s pharmacist refuse to dispense some particularly crucial medicine for a Planned Parenthood patient on the moral grounds that she might have had an abortion. The fact that these conscience protections would have covered these sorts of asshats is all the more reason to get rid of them. Unfortunately, though, these protections still exist when it comes to matters of abortion or reproductive care … but at least caretakers won’t be allowed to judge which patients can be cared for on the basis of where they like to stick their junk in the privacy of their bedrooms. That’s a fairly good start, at least.

Once again: Medicine is no place for the morally squeamish. If you can’t do your job properly without feeling the need to sacrifice care for some of the needy people who approach you in search of aid, then take off your scrubs and go do something else that won’t force you to actually take care of people. Simple enough.