Doctors must be free to heed their conscience
by Andre Van Mol
Friday, August 22, 2008
as published in the Dallas Morning News

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt is proposing regulations reflecting both the First Amendment and three federal laws protecting the rights of conscience and non-complicity for pro-life health care professionals and institutions. My experience echoes Leavitt’s finding, “there’s a serious need for it.”

We need the protection from discrimination and retribution by ideologues who would subvert the First Amendment for sake of their pro-choice-only-for-our-way position, professional guilds bent on reframing accreditation requirements and distorting standards of care to reflect their dogma and punish those who protest, and organizations that would coerce us into practices we find ethically and morally unacceptable.

A recent survey found 40 percent of Christian Medical Association physicians have experienced pressure to compromise their ethical convictions, and 88 percent say it is getting worse. Medical students are already steering away from careers in obstetrics to avoid being forced into performing abortions or colluding through referral.

It is vital that the protections in HHS regulations specify the right to non-complicity, the liberty
to refuse being conscripted into referral of patients to third parties for the objectionable treatment. Moral complicity is prosecutable, leaving a conscientiously objecting professional at risk of a lawsuit for being forced to refer a patient should she/he later regret the results of their choice. We must preserve the right to recuse ourselves from all practices that violate conscience, including being made an accessory through referral.

This is not just about abortion and abortifacients. Ethically neutered professionals become vending machines to the detriment of all served. Do you want a physician, pharmacist or nurse who practices without moral integrity? That professional’s conscience might one day be all that separates you from an early death profiting government or an insurance agency. Exaggeration? Look north to Oregon.

Granted, sometimes rights conflict. When that happens, it is the more basic right, in this case the right of conscience, that needs more protection, not less. The inconvenience posed to patients by professionals who object in non-emergent circumstances is not the equivalent of denial or prohibition of care. Even the most rural patients can go elsewhere in short order. They often do. “I will not” does not mean “You cannot get anywhere.” Accommodations can be made without violating rights of conscience and non-complicity.

Secretary Leavitt is correct that we need this protection against the trampling of our rights, the criminalization of dissent and ghettoization of sympathizers, in the name of choice.

Andre Van Mol is a Redding physician.


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