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in Health Care; Delegations of Authority expands the ability to discriminate, denies patients health care and should be rescinded.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.

 

Divisions, New and Old — Conscience and Religious Freedom at HHS

Lisa H. Harris

January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the creation of its Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, explaining that it will allow HHS’s Office of Civil Rights to “more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom” and will ensure that “no one is coerced into participating in activities that would violate their consciences, such as abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide.”1 Responses were as expected: religious conservatives hailed the new division as a needed intervention; public health and clinical leaders and advocates decried it, worrying about its impact on access to care and harm to patients.

HHS leaders’ comments to date suggest that they are uninterested in discrimination against health care providers whose consciences compel them to provide care, and uninterested in injuries to patients caused by care refusals. This framing makes conscience yet another issue dividing Americans, largely along partisan lines.


Harris LH.  Divisions, New and Old — Conscience and Religious Freedom at HHS. N Eng J Med 2018 Apr 12;378(15):1369-1371. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1801154. Epub 2018 Mar 14

Opposing Medical Conscience with a Soft Touch

National Review
Reproduced with permission

Wesley J. Smith

When the Department of Health and Human Services announced its intention to create a new office to emphasize the protection of medical conscience, the screaming from the usual suspects was so loud one would have thought Roe v. Wade had been overturned.

Now, The New England Journal of Medicine has published an abstruse opinion piece by one Lisa Harris, a professor concerned with “issues along the reproductive justice continuum,” whatever that means.

I bring this up because medical conscience is a burning issue for pro-life medical professionals and those who believe in Hippocratic medicine. The issue is whether doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others can be forced to participate in requested interventions with which they have a strong religious or moral objection — such as abortion, assisted suicide, and suppressing normal puberty in children with gender dysphoria.

But reading Harris, you would think it was just about “partisans” not understanding the gray areas and nuances of contentious social issues. From, “Divisions Old and New–Conscience and Religious Freedom at HHS”:

I feel an angry argument building in response to HHS’s one-sided framing. But I resist it. Because my challenge these days is to avoid further entrenching polarized positions and to reject the divisiveness that poisons contemporary life. Is it possible, once again, to hold in tension seemingly opposite ideas about abortion? Can we understand abortion as both something that “stops a beating heart” and a fundamental right, rather than insisting it’s only one or the other?

But the conscience issue isn’t about whether we can all just get along and understand people have differences of opinion. It isn’t about “holding in tension seemingly opposite ideas.” It is about protecting doctors from being forced to take a human life or engage in another act in the clinical setting that is violative of their faith or moral beliefs.

Harris just doesn’t get it — or doesn’t want to:

Abortion and parenthood are not mutually exclusive; loving children and ending pregnancies are compatible in patients’ lived experience.

So is loving abortion work and questioning it: abortion providers might express an enormous sense of pride, purpose, and fulfillment in their work, and also say they felt weak-kneed the first time they saw a second-trimester abortion. Some feel sad that in different circumstances, many women would continue their pregnancies, in particular if poverty and economic strain were not issues. There is sometimes a point at which, when pressed, ardently pro-choice caregivers become uncomfortable with abortion. For some, it is a matter of pregnancy duration; for others, the circumstances of an abortion, such as sex selection.

Conversely, some caregivers whose religious beliefs lead them to strongly oppose abortion nevertheless offer assistance. Some religious nurses give medications and offer comfort, compassion, and care during an abortion because they see these tasks as shared purposes of nursing and religion. Sometimes doing so requires “sitting with discomfort in real time” and holding “the tension of two contradictory positions simultaneously.”

To which I respond, bully for them, but so what?

Harris should read Ezekiel Emanuel’s article in the NEJM from not too long ago advocating that doctors who refuse to participate in a legal procedures requested by the patient should be kicked out of medicine. No balancing of “tensions” and “sitting with discomfort in real time” for him!

And there is nothing in Harris’s piece to make me think she isn’t just as opposed to medical-conscience rights as Emanuel. She just says it indirectly, in a passive-aggressive manner, and with a softer touch.

I believe the real reason the medical establishment, the secular Left, and bioethicists like Emanuel and (I believe) Harris oppose strong legal conscience protections is precisely due to the powerful moral message sent when a respected doctor or nurse says to a patient: “No. I can’t do this thing you request. It is wrong.”

There is an old saying in pro-abortion advocacy: “If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one.”

To which I add a medical-conscience corollary: If you want an abortion, don’t force a doctor to give you one.

Sometimes comity requires living with unambiguity too.

‘Medical Conscience’ Is Becoming a Partisan Controversy

National Review
Reproduced with permission

Wesley J. Smith

Should doctors and nurses be forced to participate in interventions they find morally abhorrent or unwarranted? As one example, should ethical rules require pediatricians to medically inhibit normal puberty as demanded by parents to “treat” their child’s gender dysphoria — even if they are morally opposed to the concept and/or the supposed treatment?

Some say yes. Thus, influential bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel argues that medical professionals are obligated to accede to the patient’s right to receive legal interventions if they are generally accepted within the medical community — specifically including abortion. Emanuel stated doctors who are morally or religiously opposed, should do the procedure anyway or procure a doctor they know will accede to the patient’s demands. Either that, or get out of medicine.

Supporters of “medical conscience” argue that forcing doctors to participate in interventions they find morally abhorrent would be involuntary medical servitude. They want to strengthen existing laws that protect doctors, nurses, and pharmacists’ who refuse participation in legal interventions to which they are morally or religiously opposed.

Now, medical conscience looks to become another battlefront in our bitter partisan divide. After the Trump administration announced rules that will place greater emphasis on enforcing federal laws protecting medical conscience, Democratic state attorneys general promised to seek a court order invalidating the new rule. From the New York Law Journal story:

But 19 state attorneys general, led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman, argue that it is the patients who will be discriminated against under the proposed rule. This is particularly true, they argue, in the cases of marginalized patients who already face discrimination in trying to obtain health care, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients and male patients seeking HIV/AIDS preventative medications, according to the comments filed in opposition to the rule.

“If adopted, the proposed rule … will needlessly and carelessly upset the balance that has long been struck in federal and state law to protect the religious freedom of providers, the business needs of employers, and the health care needs of patients,” they state.

The stakes can only increase as moral controversies in health care intensify in coming years. As just two examples, some bioethicists are lobbying to enact laws that would give dementia patients the right to sign an advance directive requiring nursing homes to starve them to death once they reach a specified level of cognitive decline. There are also increasing calls to do away with the dead-donor rule in transplant medicine so that PVS patients can be organ-harvested while still alive

If these acts become legal, should doctor and nurses who practice in these fields be forced to participate? If Emanuel’s opinion prevails, the answer could be yes. If medical professionals are protected by medical conscience legal protections, the answer would be no.

Medical conscience is not just important to personally affected professionals. All of us have a stake. Think about the potential talent drain we could face if we force health-care professionals to violate their moral beliefs. Experienced doctors and nurses might well take Emanuel’s advice and get out of medicine — while talented young people who could add so much to the field may avoid entering health-care professions altogether.

Comity is essential to societal cohesion in our moral polyglot age. Medical conscience allows patients to obtain morally contentious procedures, while permitting dissenting medical professionals to stay true to their own moral and religious beliefs. I hope the Democrats’ lawsuits are thrown out of court.

Laxalt signs on to letter supporting “conscience protections” for health workers with religious objections

The Nevada Independent

Michelle Rindels

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Adam Laxalt has signed on to a letter supporting a new set of regulations that aims to protect health workers who don’t want to perform abortions, help transgender patients transition or take other actions because of religious or moral objections.

Laxalt joined 16 other attorneys general in signing the March 27 letter to Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The letter lauds the “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority” regulations, saying it’s important to return to obeying conscience protections enacted by Congress and restore the rule of law in Washington. . . [Full Text]

19 State Attorneys General Declare Opposition to HHS’ Proposed Conscientious Objection Rule

New York Law Journal

Kristen Rasmu

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed rule that would more vigorously protect health care providers’ ability to deny coverage in certain circumstances because of moral or religious beliefs should be withdrawn, according to a coalition of state attorneys general.

The proposed rule would strengthen the enforcement of existing regulations that allow providers to invoke conscientious objections as a basis for refusing to provide care that involves certain medical issues, including abortion, sterilization, assisted suicide and others. It also would allow individual providers to object to informing patients about their medical options or referring them to providers of those options. . . [Full Text]

New HHS office that enforces health workers’ religious rights received 300 complaints in a month

The Hill

Jessie Hellman

More than 300 individuals filed a complaint with the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department over the last month, saying that their religious or conscience rights have been violated by their employer, a state or state agency or a health provider.

The complaints follow the creation of a new division within HHS that focuses on enforcing those rights and investigating complaints from individuals who say their rights have been violated.

For example, a nurse could file a complaint against their employer if they are coerced into participating in an abortion or disciplined for refusing to do so . . . [Full Text]

The War on the Hippocratic Oath

First Things

Wesley J. Smith

The screaming was so loud, you would have thought that the Trump administration had overturned Roe v. Wade. It hadn’t, of course. But it had directed needed attention at the existing legal protection that allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in abortions without fear of firing or other job sanctions. This protection is sometimes called “medical conscience rights.”

The occasion for the uproar? The Department of Health and Human Services announced its intention to create a new office of Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to enforce medical conscience. It is worth noting that this proposed action will not change the law. But it will revitalize enforcement efforts after years of the Obama administration’s hostility toward religious liberty generally and medical conscience rights specifically. Indeed, the newly created enforcement office will put medical employers on notice that the current administration considers medical conscience rights to be fundamental. As the HHS press release put it:

The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.

In a country with a long and venerable history of honoring conscientious objection and protecting the free exercise of religion, one would think this step would be met by applause. But for some, it was akin to a declaration of social war. The Massachusetts Medical Society sniffed in opposition:

As physicians, we have an obligation to ensure patients are treated with dignity while accessing and receiving the best possible care to meet their clinical needs. We will not and cannot, in good conscience, compromise our responsibility to heal the sick based upon a patient’s racial identification, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, disability, immigration status, or economic status.

The New York Times was equally condemning. In an editorial titled, “The White House Puts the Bible Before the Hippocratic Oath,” the editorialists warned hyperbolically:

The decisions may make it more difficult for teenagers wanting to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, for gay men looking to prevent HIV and even for women seeking breast exams or pap smears.

Please. No one who supports a robust protection of medical conscience advocates compromising the physician’s responsibility to “heal the sick.” No one wants to prevent women from obtaining cancer screenings. Nor do supporters of medical conscience seek to authorize doctors and nurses to discriminate against individuals.

Rather, medical conscience prevents doctors and nurses from being forced to act in opposition either to their religious beliefs – e.g., commit a grievous sin – or to their moral consciences by being forced to participate in morally objectionable procedures, such as taking innocent human life in abortion, assisted suicide, or lethal injection euthanasia. It could also protect medical professionals from being required to administer hormones to inhibit puberty in adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria – a controversial recent innovation that the American College of Pediatricians has called “mass experimentation.” That opinion is becoming heterodox in the field, but surely no doctor should be forced in an elective procedure to act in a way that he believes actively harms the patient. The same goes for physicians who object to participating in sex-change surgeries based on the belief that sex is biologically determined or that it is wrong to remove healthy organs. Conscious protections should also apply to a doctor or nurse who objects to participating in infant circumcision based on a moral objection. And surely no doctor should be forced to participate in an execution, not even the administrative act of declaring the condemned prisoner dead after the execution.

People of good will can hold radically divergent moral beliefs, including about legal medical services and procedures. The stakes in this controversy are very high. As I have written here before, there is a concerted effort underway to drive pro-life and Hippocratic Oath-believing doctors, nurses, and other professionals out of medicine – a lamentable potentiality. We need increased comity and tolerance for those medical professionals who object to reigning moral paradigms and hold to sanctity-of-life ethics. The new HHS office represents a positive step toward achieving that end.

Post Script: The best and most efficient way to protect medical conscience would be for the states and the federal government to allow medical conscience rights to be enforced via private causes of action in civil court, which is not currently allowed generally. I will discuss that idea in a future column.

 

Medical Establishment Opposes Conscience Rights

Evolution News & Science Today
Reproduced with permission

Wesley J. Smith

The laws and regulations of the United States protect medical professionals from being forced to participate in abortion and sterilization and other procedures against their religious beliefs by prohibiting discrimination in employment.

The medical establishment thus responds to the creation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR). How awful, they yell. We want our pro-life colleagues, and those who believe in the Hippocratic Oath, to be forced to violate their religious and moral beliefs in their professional lives.

For example, the Massachusetts Medical Society doesn’t want a division formed to protect their colleagues. From the Society’s statement:

As physicians, we have an obligation to ensure patients are treated with dignity while accessing and receiving the best possible care to meet their clinical needs. We will not and cannot, in good conscience, compromise our responsibility to heal the sick based upon a patient’s racial identification, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, disability, immigration status, or economic status.

Baloney. It won’t “compromise” anything. Doctors are not “on demand” technocrats who fill patient’s orders, particularly with regard to non-life-threatening and elective procedures, which are the real subjects here.

It could, however, protect employees from being forced by their employers to choose between their faith or moral beliefs, and their careers.

In a society as profoundly rent as ours is about fundamental moral beliefs around the sanctity of human life and the proper role of medicine in fulfilling lifestyle and other personal desires, basic comity requires such focused enforcement of legal conscience protections.

Otherwise, pro-lifers will be driven entirely out of medicine — an outcome, I assume, that the the leaders of the Massachusetts Medical Society would heartily applaud.

https://evolutionnews.org/2018/01/the-medical-establishment-opposes-conscience-rights/

Complaint filed with federal agency by Rockford nurse over abortion mandates

rrstar.com

Georgett Braun

ROCKFORD.  A local woman has filed a complaint with a federal agency alleging that she was forced from her job in 2015 at the Winnebago County Health Department because of abortion mandates.

The complaint was filed Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by attorneys representing Sandra Rojas.

The complaint alleges that Rojas, a pediatric nurse who worked 18 years at the Health Department, objected to a requirement that nurses be trained to make referrals to abortion providers and to help women obtain abortion drugs. . . . [Full Text]