Proposed rule would protect doctors from discrimination

The Hill
24 September, 2008

Reproduced with permission

Jonathan Imbody*

The uproar over a modest proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reveals a widening culture chasm in healthcare, created by disparate views of medical ethics and civil rights.

When HHS recently proposed a regulation to finally implement 35 years of civil liberty laws protecting conscience rights in health care, opponents railed against an alleged conspiracy to “deny women access to contraception.”

That’s quite an implausible protest against an agency that this year will spend over $1.6 billion on “family planning” programs.

The real reason for the abortion lobby’s protest stems from years of frustration in attempts to persuade physicians to violate their commitment to heal and to the Hippocratic Oath’s prohibition on abortion and the mandate to “do no harm.” The last remaining strategy to achieve their goal of involving more physicians is to literally force them to perform or refer patients for abortions, through state laws and medical organization policies forbidding the exercise of conscientious objection.

The only thing standing in the way of that coercive agenda is implementation of federal civil rights law.

Ironically, coercive laws and policies, though instigated in the name of insuring access to women’s healthcare, in fact threaten to significantly decrease access — by eliminating physicians who hold to life-affirming standards of medical ethics.

Discrimination and coercion appear to be infiltrating many sectors of medicine. Over 40 percent of our members report having experienced pressure to compromise their commitment to medical ethics standards. Medical school applicants with life-affirming values report discrimination in entrance interviews. Residents report being denied clinical learning opportunities because they refused to perform abortions. Physicians report the loss of jobs and academic promotions based on their life-affirming stances.

The public likewise remains ignorant of existing federal civil rights protections. A scientific national survey by The Polling Company Inc. revealed that 42 percent of American adults incorrectly believe that federal law obliges a physician to either perform or refer for abortions.

The HHS regulation is urgently needed to remedy discrimination and coercion in healthcare before patients lose access to some of our bestand most compassionate medical professionals.

By implementing existing conscience-protecting laws and by initiating education, the regulation can take a vital step toward restoring a culture in medicine that honors professional standards and respects civil rights.

Re: Sept. 8 editorial “Leavitt should drop proposed health care rule.”

Letter to the Editor
Austin American Statesman

15 September, 2008

Reproduced with permission

Jonathan Imbody*

The editorial characterizes as “a back-door way to limit access to contraceptives” a regulation recently proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to protect conscience rights in health care.

The regulation in no way prohibits access to either contraception or abortion. The regulation merely implements 35 years of civil rights laws to protect health care professionals from discrimination merely for adhering to life-affirming medical ethics such as the Hippocratic Oath.

More than 40 percent of our members — physicians and medical students — report that they have experienced pressure to violate standards of medical ethics. Medical students report eschewing careers in obstetrics and gynecology for fear of coercion to do abortions.

This regulation is urgently needed to prevent forcing these principled professionals out of their careers through discrimination and coercion, which results in less access to health care for women.

Rights Commission threat “blasphemy against the human spirit”

College of Physicians secrecy said unacceptable

Protection of Conscience Project

For Immediate Release

“Blasphemy against the human spirit.” That is how the Protection of Conscience Project describes a threat by Ontario’s Human Rights Commission to punish doctors who refuse to do what they believe to be wrong. The rebuke is found in a submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

Citing writers and philosophers in the democratic tradition, as well as the landmark Morgentaler decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Project argues that to force doctors to act against their conscientious convictions is “to deprive them of their essential humanity.” It calls the proposed policy “profoundly offensive and demeaning.”

“To abandon one’s moral or ethical convictions in order to serve others is prostitution,” states the submission, “not professionalism.”

The brief denies that doctors who refuse to do what they believe is wrong are violating the Human Rights Code. It explains that they are concerned about “complicity in wrongdoing,” not race, sex or other patient characteristics.

The Project submission addresses the College draft policy, Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code. Deadline for comment on the policy was extended to 12 September following protests when news of it became public.

The President of the College told the National Post that the draft has been revised, but refuses to make it public. Project Administrator Sean Murphy finds College secrecy unacceptable.

“At least two substantial briefs reached the College only on Friday,” he said. “The National Post story appeared Saturday. It seems very unlikely that College officials could have considered either submission before revising the draft. This brings into question the validity of the consultation process.”

“But the more important issue,” he said, “is that decision-making that impacts fundamental freedoms should be conducted transparently, not secretly. Why keep the revised draft secret? Is there something to hide?”

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Project Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

Re: Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code

(11 September, 2008)

Rules let care workers practice medical ethics

Letter to the Editor,
Detroit News,

6 September, 2008

Reproduced with permission

Jonathan Imbody*

Laura Berman’s Aug. 26 column, “Keep the choice in hands of patients,” mischaracterizes a conscience-protecting regulation recently proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as somehow pitting “health care workers with strong religious and moral beliefs against women needing care.”

The regulation would finally implement 35 years of civil rights laws passed by Congress to prevent discrimination and coercion against health care professionals who adhere to life-affirming standards of medical ethics such as the Hippocratic Oath. Such standards not only affirm the inherent value of the unborn and the elderly; they also aim to protect patients from sexual abuse, financial exploitation and violation of privacy in healthcare.

Two of five of our members report being pressured to violate standards of medical ethics. Residents report being denied clinical privileges for refusing to perform abortions. Medical students report switching out of obstetrics and gynecology for fear of reprisals and coercion to do abortions. The pro-abortion American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently issued a position statement that all obstetricians are obliged to participate in abortion. Conscientiously objecting physicians face an implicit threat of loss of licensure.

The real threat to choice comes from perpetuating these violations of healthcare professionals’ civil rights, which ultimately results in patients losing access to their most compassionate and conscientious physicians.

Moral Safeguards for Patients, Too

Letter to the Editor
The Washington Post

4 September, 2008

Reproduced with permission

Jonathan Imbody*

The misunderstanding expressed in the Aug. 26 letter, “Health Care’s Conscientious Objectors,” illustrates the need for the conscience-protecting regulation recently proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The regulation would implement 35 years of civil rights laws passed by Congress to protect health-care professionals from discrimination, coercion and job loss for adhering to life-affirming ethical standards. The regulation would simply disallow forcing professionals to perform elective abortions and other procedures that violate millennia of medical ethics codes.

Contrary to the letter’s assertion, health-care professionals would continue to care as always for wounded soldiers, AIDS patients, post-abortive teenagers, felons and drunk drivers. In fact, the regulations would protect patient access to the compassionate, conscientious health-care professionals who are among the most dedicated to caring for such individuals.

Abortion Article Was Incorrect

Letter to the Editor
The Daily News,

Harrisonburg, VA
2 September, 2008

Reproduced with permission

Jonathan Imbody*

Shirley Kirkwood’s recent Open Forum wrongly suggests that a regulation proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is somehow aimed at blocking contraception use (“Abortion Is A Religious Right,” Aug. 21).

That’s nearly as implausible a stretch as the notion that ending human lives is a religious right. The agency this year alone will spend over $1.6 billion on “family planning” programs.

What has been long established is the right to follow one’s conscience according to the dictates of faith and ethics.

That’s what the regulation will protect, as health care professionals push back against a culture that devalues life and work to restore life-affirming values such as those expressed in the Hippocratic Oath, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures and standards applied to medical ethics.

Conscience and coercion

Letter to the Editor

Salt Lake City Tribune
2 September, 2008
Reproduced with permission

Jonathan Imbody*

The Tribune editorial “Going too far: Proposed rule affects contraceptive information” (Our View, Aug. 26) wrongly charges that a recently proposed federal regulation will somehow “force poor women to limit their health-care choices to just those that are morally acceptable to taxpayer-funded providers.”

The regulation implements 35 years of civil liberty laws protecting health care professionals from coercion, discrimination and job loss for following life-affirming standards of medical ethics, such as the Hippocratic oath. It does not outlaw or hinder any legal procedure or prescription, nor does it prevent a patient’s access to information about contraception or abortion, which is readily available.

An intolerant approach to individual conscience is fomenting a crisis of access in health care, particularly in obstetrics and gynecology, where doctors and medical students are leaving for fear of reprisals or coercion to do abortions.

These regulations will protect health care professionals who adhere to high ethical and moral standards – those most likely to provide compassionate care for under-served patients.