HHS Attempts to Protect Medical Conscience
Special Report - September 2, 2008
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) Secretary Mike Leavitt proposed a rule August 21 to strengthen legal conscience protections for medical personnel. The proposed rule seeks to increase awareness of and compliance with existing conscience protections under the law. The Church Amendments from the 1970s, the 1996 Public Health Service Act, and the Weldon Amendment all prohibit discrimination against individuals and institutions that refuse to perform or participate in the training of certain legal medical procedures, including abortions, based on religious belief or moral conviction. This rule would allow federal health officials to revoke federal funding for any of the more than 584,000 hospitals, clinics, health plans, and medical facilities that receive those funds, if officials find that they do not accommodate employees who refuse to provide certain services on moral, personal, or religious grounds.
The move is prompted by an ethics opinion released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and seemingly adopted by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which could force physicians to violate their conscience or risk losing board certificationin direct conflict with existing statutes protecting provider conscience rights. “This proposed regulation is about the legal right of a health care professional to practice according to their conscience,” HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. “Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience. Freedom of expression and action should not be surrendered upon the issuance of a health care degree.” The proposed rule is now in a 30-day public comment period.
North Carolina statute 14.45-1(e) includes a conscience clause protecting physicians and nurses. A bill that would have amended this statute to protect pharmacists from being required to prescribe or dispense drugs or devices that result in an abortion was introduced in the 2007 legislative session, but never made it out of committee.
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.