HHS Announces New Conscience and Religious Freedom Division

News Release

For immediate release

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pleased to announce the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  The announcement will take place at an event at HHS headquarters from 10:30 a.m. to noon.  It will be livestreamed here. Speakers will include Acting Secretary Eric D. Hargan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Representative Vicky Hartzler, Senator James Lankford, OCR Director Roger Severino, and special guests.

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.  OCR is the law enforcement agency within HHS that enforces federal laws protecting civil rights and conscience in health and human services, and the security and privacy of people’s health information.  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.

OCR already has enforcement authority over federal conscience protection statutes, such as the Church, Coats-Snowe, and Weldon Amendments; Section 1553 of the Affordable Care Act (on assisted suicide); and certain federal nondiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion in a variety of HHS programs.

OCR Director Severino said, “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now.”

Acting HHS Secretary Hargan said, “President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom.  That promise is being kept today. The Founding Fathers knew that a nation that respects conscience rights is more diverse and more free, and OCR’s new division will help make that vision a reality.”

Contact: Office for Civil Rights
202-774-3009

arina.grossu@hhs.gov

To learn more about the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, visit us at www.hhs.gov/conscience.

To file a complaint with OCR based on a violation of civil rights, conscience or religious freedom, or health information privacy, visit us at https://www.hhs.gov/ocr/complaints.

British conscience protection bill: second reading set for 26 January, 2018

The Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill [HL] 2017-19, introduced by Baroness Nuala O’Loan, will be debated during second reading in the British House of Lords on 26 January, 2018.  The proposal is a procedure-specific bill limited to activities associated with abortion, artificial reproduction and withdrawing life sustaining treatment.

Doctors, advocacy groups address proposed law protecting those who object to assisted dying

CBC News

Holly Caruk

Dr. Frank Ewert wants protection from having to help a patient die — but Dying with Dignity Canada doesn’t want that to happen at the cost of patients receiving full access to end-of-life options.

“When I started back a number of years ago and vowed to follow the Hippocratic oath, I meant it. It was very profound to me, it resonated with my core beliefs, that I would always respect life, that I would do nothing to harm a patient,” Ewert told a legislative committee on Monday evening. . . [Full text]

 

Tiny human brain organoids implanted into rodents, triggering ethical concerns

Stat

Sharon Begley

Minuscule blobs of human brain tissue have come a long way in the four years since scientists in Vienna discovered1how to create them from stem cells.

The most advanced of these human brain organoids — no bigger than a lentil and, until now, existing only in test tubes — pulse with the kind of electrical activity that animates actual brains. They give birth to new neurons2, much like full-blown brains. And they develop the six layers3 of the human cortex, the region responsible for thought, speech, judgment, and other advanced cognitive functions.

These micro quasi-brains are revolutionizing research on human brain development and diseases from Alzheimer’s to Zika4, but the headlong rush to grow the most realistic, most highly developed brain organoids has thrown researchers into uncharted ethical waters. Like virtually all experts in the field, neuroscientist Hongjun Song of the University of Pennsylvania doesn’t “believe an organoid in a dish can think,” he said, “but it’s an issue we need to discuss.” . . [Full text]

 

Is there any difference between euthanasia and palliated starvation?

BioEdge

Xavier Symons

While euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently illegal in most countries, the practice of voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED) is seen by some as an ethically and legally permissible alternative. VSED refers to seriously-ill patients refusing to eat and drink for a sustained period of time with the intention of bringing about their own death.

Yet a new paper published in BMC Medicine argues that VSED is ethically indistinguishable from assisted suicide, and should be subject to the same legal regulations as more salient cases of assistance in dying.

The paper, lead-authored by Ralf J. Jox of the Institute for Ethics, History and Theory of Medicine at the University of Munich, argues that “supporting patients who embark on VSED amounts to assistance in suicide, at least in some instances, depending on the kind of support and its relation to the patient’s intention”.

While VSED does not involve an invasive or aggressive act like many other means of suicide, the authors write that “VSED should [nevertheless] be considered as a form of suicide, as there is both an intention to bring about death and an omission that directly causes this effect”. Doctors who assist patients in VSED — by encouraging them, or promising pain-relief if VSED is undertaken — are potentially instrumental in the deaths of the patients, as the suicide would not occur without them, and they share the patient’s intention of inducing death.

The authors of the paper conclude that the same legal prescriptions or regulations that apply to physician assisted suicide should also apply to VSED.

“[We] maintain… that future ethical discussions on assisted suicide require consideration of medically supported VSED, and vice versa…Thus, the widely held position by palliative care societies, professional bodies of physicians, legal scholars, and ethicists to disapprove of assisted suicide but approve of and even promote medically supported VSED appears inconsistent”.


This article is published by Xavier Symons and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation to BioEdge. Commercial media must contact BioEdge for permission and fees.

 

Accessed 2017-08-11

 

Critics call bill aimed to protect health workers unwilling to offer assisted death ‘one-sided’

CBC: The Current

Interviewer/host: Piya Chattopadhyay

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: Bill 34 is being introduced by the Manitoba government to protect conscience rights for health care professionals, so that health care providers would not be required to participate in assisted suicide.

VOICE 2: While I cannot participate in assisted suicide for a couple of reasons. The first is I made a vow as a medical student 40 years ago that I wouldn’t kill patients, okay? And I’m not willing to cross that line.

PC: It has been less than 18 months now since medically assisted dying became legal in Canada. And health care workers are still adapting to that paradigm change. We just heard part of a video produced by the Coalition for Health Care and Conscience. It’s a national umbrella organization of religious groups, and as you heard it is lobbying for Bill 34 a proposed piece of legislation in Manitoba that was drafted to help health care workers with conscientious objections to helping end patients’ lives. Here’s Manitoba’s health minister Kelvin Goertzen. . . [Full episode transcript]

 

 

Policy on medically assisted dying in works

Brantford Expositor

Michael-Allan Marion

A policy on handling requests for medically assisted dying is being prepared for the John Noble Home.

The home’s committee of management this week got a staff report on the drafting of a formal policy on managing medical assistance in dying, or MAID, requests, which is now required in long-term care homes by federal law.

The draft could be presented to the committee for review as early as next month and will be referred to the city’s legal department for comment.

Jennifer Miller, administrator for the home for the aged on Mount Pleasant Street, said that, so far, there have been no MAID requests from residents. . . [Full text]

 

Christian nurse sues hospital for requiring her to assist abortions

Lifesite News

Claire Chretien

DURHAM, North Carolina, November 3, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – A Catholic nurse is suing Duke University Hospital, claiming that the university discriminated against her religious and pro-life beliefs by requiring her to assist in abortions.

Sara T. Pedro was told during her employee orientation that Duke University Hospital provides no exceptions to employees in its Emergency Department who don’t want to participate in abortions. The lawsuit, filed by The Thomas More Law Center on Pedro’s behalf, says that Duke’s Emergency Department performs “a large number of abortions.”

The lawsuit claims that Pedro faced retaliation and discrimination after she made a written request to be exempt from the pro-abortion policy. . . [Full text]

 

Canadian doctors face questions over assisted suicide, euthanasia for minors

” . . .conscientious objection in Canada, unfortunately, hangs by a thread . . .”

The Catholic Register

Catholic News Agency

Ottawa – Only one year after assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia became legal for adults in Canada, a new study is showing that some of the country’s pediatricians are being faced with questions about the practices for minors.

The study, which surveyed 1,050 doctors and was published by the Canadian Paediatric Society, found that more than ten percent of Canadian pediatricians have had conversations with parents or minors about the option of assisted suicide or euthanasia for terminal patients under the age of 18. . . [Full text]