HHS rules prevent providers from being forced to do things that violate moral convictions

The Hill

Reproduced with permission

Diana Ruzicka*

In the April 4, 2018 article, HHS rule lowers the bar for care and discriminates against certain people, nursing leaders, Pamela F. Cipriano and Karen Cox, wrote that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Proposed Rule: Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority expands the ability to discriminate, denies patients health care and should be rescinded. These accusations are unfounded and the rule should be supported.

What the rule does is “more effectively and comprehensively enforce Federal health care conscience and associated anti-discrimination laws.” It is not an effort to allow discrimination but an effort to prevent it by enforcing laws already on the books and gives the OCR the authority to oversee such efforts. This is something that nursing should encourage because it supports the Code of Ethics for Nurses (code).

The code reminds us that, “The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety, preserve wholeness of character and integrity, maintain competence and continue personal and professional growth.”

It is precisely because nurses are professionals who hold themselves to these standards that patients have come to see nurses as persons worthy of their trust, persons in whose hands they are willing to place their lives. Being granted by the public this weighty and solemn responsibility is humbling and must never be taken lightly. Thus the nurse’s duty to practice in accord with one’s conscience, to be a person of wholeness of character and integrity, is recognized by the.

It is odd that, despite supporting a nurse’s duty to conscience and the right to refuse to participate in an action to which the nurse objects on the grounds of conscience, Cipriano and Cox insist that the nurse, must assure that others make the care available to the patient. This suggests a failure to recognize that referring the patient to someone who will do the objectionable act in place of the nurse can make the nurse complicit.

The culpability of complicity is well recognized in law and ethics, as an accomplice is liable to the same extent as the person who does the deed. Thus, to make a referral and be complicit in an act to which the nurse conscientiously objects, also violates conscience. We doubt nursing leaders actually support this, as the consequences would be chilling.

When persons are made to violate their conscience, to set it aside, to silence it, moral integrity is eroded and moral disengagement progressively sets in. To move from caring for our fellow human beings to acting on them in ways that our conscience tells us we should not, requires powerful cognitive manipulation and restructuring to free ourselves of the guilt associated with this violation of our deeply held moral or religious beliefs.

Moral disengagement has frightening negative consequences, namely a pernicious dehumanization of persons, including oneself and of society as a whole. Rather than a nurse being someone of moral courage, ethical competence and human rights sensitivity, as our code directs, a nurse would have to be someone who is willing to surrender their conscience to expediency, powerful others, or whatever happens to be permitted by law at the time and place.

No longer would patients find that nurses are persons they can trust. It is precisely because nurses practice in accordance with their conscience that the public continues to grant them high scores on honesty and ethics.

None of this is to say that nurses may abandon patients. By promptly seeking a transfer of assignment that does not involve the objectionable act or by transferring the patient elsewhere without making a referral, the nurse continues to uphold the code by “promoting, advocating for and protecting the rights, health and safety of the patient [and, at the same time,] preserving wholeness of character and integrity.”

Clearly, refusal to care for a patient based on an individual attribute is unjust discrimination and has no place in nursing or health care. But that is not what the rule does. It protects the right to object to being forced to participate in an act that violates a person’s deeply held moral convictions or religious beliefs and from discrimination as a result of one’s refusal to participate in such an act.

To call for rescinding the rule, whose purpose is to protect this fundamental human right, would be short-sighted and could make unjust discrimination more likely and harm not only nursing but also the patients we serve.

 

Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 6: Participation in Killing

Abstract

It appears that, even where euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal, the majority of physicians do not actually provide the services.  However, by establishing a purported legal “right” to euthanasia, ARELC generates a demand that physicians kill their patients, despite the high probability that a majority of physicians will not do so.

Often for purely pragmatic reasons, euthanasia supporters do not usually insist that an unwilling physician should be compelled to personally kill a patient.  Thus, the difficulty created by the law can be addressed by administrative measures that connect patients looking for euthanasia with the minority of physicians willing to provide it.  Nonetheless, physicians who object to euthanasia for reasons of conscience will likely be expected to facilitate access to the procedure by helping the patient find a colleague willing to provide it.

However, objecting physicians not only refuse to kill patients, but also often refuse to do anything that they believe makes them morally responsible for the killing.  This includes actions that indirectly support or facilitate it.  Hence, it is likely that most of the attacks on freedom of conscience resulting from ARELC will be preciptated, not by a refusal to kill directly, but by this kind of refusal to participate indirectly in killing.

The Criminal Code demonstrates that a physician who refuses to facilitate the killing of a patient because he does not want to be a culpable participant in killing is acting well within well-established moral and legal norms reflected in our criminal law.  Further, the polices of professional medical organizations that forbid physician participation in capital punishment, torture, and female genital cutting indicate that it is not unreasonable for objecting physicians to refuse to facilitate euthanasia even indirectly.

On the contrary: refusing to participate, even indirectly, in conduct believed to involve serious ethical violations or wrongdoing is not aberrant behaviour.  It is the response expected of physicians by professional bodies and regulators in order to avoid physician complicity in such procedures. [Full Text]

Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 1: Overview


Abstract

An Act Respecting End-of-Life Care (“ARELC”) is intended to legalize euthanasia by physicians in the province of Quebec.  It replaces the original Bill 52, the subject of a previous commentary by the Project.  The original text of the Bill 52 did not define medical aid in dying (MAD), but ARELC now makes it clear that Quebec physicians may provide euthanasia under the MAD protocol.  In addition, substitute decision makers can order legally incompetent patients who are not dying to be starved and dehydrated to death.  This practice, identified here as Euthanasia Below the Radar (EBTR), is completely unrestricted and is not even reportable.

Neither ARELC nor MAD guidelines can abolish the criminal prohibition of euthanasia, so physicians who kill patients in the circumstances contemplated by the new law would still be liable to prosecution.  However, the Quebec government has promised that it will refuse to prosecute physicians who kill patients in accordance with MAD guidelines, thus circumventing the criminal prohibition.  Beyond that, Quebec general practitioners have asked for immunity from prosecution for failing to conform to MAD guidelines.  Some Quebec physicians may be unwilling to provide euthanasia while the criminal law stands. Quebec’s Attorney General may be unwilling to provide the extraordinary kind of immunity sought by physicians, and some physicians may be unwilling to provide euthanasia without it.

The introduction of euthanasia will require the complicity of thousands of health care workers and administrators.   Many are likely to comply because official representatives of the legal and medical establishments of Quebec have formally declared their support for the new law.  On the other hand, palliative care physicians, hospices and an undetermined number of other physicians and health care workers are opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Section 4 of ARELC states that eligible patients have a right to “end-of life-care,” which includes euthanasia and palliative care.  The statutory declaration of a “right” is the most powerful weapon in the legal arsenal likely to be used to enforce compliance with ARELC and to attack freedom of conscience among those who refuse to facilitate the procedure.

It appears that, even where euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal, the majority of physicians do not actually provide the services.  The Act may lead to discriminatory screening of physicians unwilling to kill patients, effected by denying them employment in their specialties and denying them hospital privileges.

However, objecting physicians not only refuse to kill patients, but also often refuse to do anything that they believe makes them morally responsible for the killing. Hence, it is likely that most of the attacks on freedom of conscience resulting from ARELC will be precipitated by refusal to participate indirectly in killing.

Physicians may refuse to provide euthanasia if the patient is legally ineligible, and for other reasons, including conscientious objection.  ARELC requires physicians who refuse to provide euthanasia for any reason other than non-eligibility to notify a designated administrator, who then becomes responsible for finding a MAD physician.  The idea is to have the institution or health care system completely relieve the physician of responsibility for facilitating the procedure.

The protection of conscience provision in ARELC distinguishes physicians from other health professionals, providing less protection for physicians than for others.  Physicians may refuse only  “to administer” euthanasia – a very specific action –  which seems to suggest that they are expected to participate in other ways.

Palliative care hospices and a single Quebec hospital may permit euthanasia under the MAD protocol on their premises, but they do not have to do so.  Patients must be advised of their policy before admission.  The exemptions were provided for purely pragmatic and political reasons.  The exemptions have been challenged by organizations that want hospices forced to kill or allow the killing of patients who ask for MAD. Hospice representatives rejected the first demand and gave mixed responses to the second.  A prominent hospice spokesman predicted that hospices refusing to provide euthanasia will operate in an increasingly hostile climate.

Refusing to participate, even indirectly, in conduct believed to involve serious ethical violations or wrongdoing is the response expected of physicians by professional bodies and regulators.  It is not clear that Quebec legislators or professional regulators understand this.  A principal contributor to this lack of awareness – if not actually the source of it – is the Code of Ethics of the Collège des médecins, because it requires that physicians who are unwilling to provide a service for reasons of conscience help the patient obtain the service elsewhere.

As a general rule, it fundamentally unjust and offensive to human dignity to require people to support, facilitate or participate in what they perceive to be wrongful acts; the more serious the wrongdoing, the graver the injustice and offence.  It was a serious error to include this a requirement in a code of ethics.  The error became intuitively obvious to the Collège des médecins and College of Pharmacists when the subject shifted from facilitating access to birth control to facilitating the killing of patients.

A policy of mandatory referral of the kind found in the Code of Ethics of the Collège des médecins  is not only erroneous, but dangerous.  It purports to entrench  a ‘duty to do what is wrong’ in medical practice, including a duty to kill or facilitate the killing of patients. To hold that the state or a profession can compel someone to commit or even to facilitate what he sees as murder is extraordinary.

Since ARELC explicitly authorizes physicians to kill patients deemed eligible for MAD by the Act, the federal government can go to court to have the statute declared unconstitutional.  However, it is possible that the federal government will take no action until after the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Carter v. Canada and after the 2015 federal election.

It seems unlikely that Quebec physicians who provide euthanasia under MAD guidelines will be prosecuted even if the prohibition of assisted suicide and euthanasia is maintained by the Supreme Court of Canada, and even if ARELC is ultimately struck down as unconstitutional.  The continued de facto decriminalization of euthanasia in Quebec would probably generate considerable pressure in other provinces to follow suit.

Those who refuse to provide or facilitate euthanasia for reasons of conscience will likely find themselves in increasingly complicated and contentious working environments. In the end, freedom of conscience for Quebec health care workers who object to euthanasia may come to mean nothing more than the freedom to find another job, or the freedom to leave the province. [Full text]

Complicity after the fact

Moral blindness becomes a virtue and necessity

US scientists were “accomplices after the fact” in Japanese doctors’ war crimes

Bioedge

Michael Cook*

All of contemporary bioethics springs from the Nuremberg Doctors Trial in 1947. Seven Nazi doctors and officials were hanged and nine received severe prison sentences for performing experiments on an estimated 25,000 prisoners in concentration camps without their consent. Only about 1,200 died but many were maimed and psychologically scarred.

So what did the US do to the hundreds of Japanese medical personnel who experimented on Chinese civilians and prisoners of war of many nationalities, including Chinese, Koreans, Russians, Australians, and Americans? They killed an estimated 3,000 people in the infamous Unit 731 in Harbin, in northeastern China before and during World War II – plus tens of thousands of civilians when they field-tested germ warfare. Many of the doctors were academics from Japan’s leading medical schools.
Full Text