President to Repeal Physician Right of Conscience
Special Report - March 13, 2009
The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to rescind an executive order that was issued late last year by President George W. Bush and protects the right of conscience for health care providers, including the right to decline involvement in abortion-related services. The regulationwhich took effect on January 20, 2009strengthened the legal protections for health care providers who refuse to participate in services, such as abortion, that violate their moral, religious, and ethical convictions. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has published a proposal to rescind the regulation in the March 10 Federal Register and requested public feedback about the proposal. “The Department believes it is important to have an opportunity to review this regulation to ensure its consistency with current Administration policy,” the DHHS proposal states, “and to reevaluate the necessity for regulations implementing the Church Amendments, Section 245 of the Public Health Service Act, and the Weldon Amendment.”
The DHHS regulation instituted by President Bush applies to hospitals, physicians, nurses (including those in training), health care personnel and health insurance plans. It does three things: 1) clarifies that “nondiscrimination protections apply to institutional health care providers, as well as to individual employees working for recipients of certain HHS funds;” 2) “requires recipients of certain HHS funds” to certify their written compliance with the three federal laws that protect the right to conscience for health care providers; and 3) designates the HHS Office for Civil Rights to handle complaints and conduct investigations of noncompliance.
The public comment period for the Obama administration’s proposal to rescind the conscience clause rule for health care providers is open until April 9, 2009. Comments can be submitted by email or in writing. Electronic comments can be submitted at the link http://www.Regulations.gov or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Written comments should be addressed to: Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue, SW., Room 716G, Washington, DC 20201.
In a survey conducted December 22-29 by HCD Research, 49 percent of doctors said they supported the HHS conscience clause rule instituted by President Bush, while 33 percent opposed it, and 19 percent said they had no opinion about it. Nearly 40 percent of the physicians in the survey agreed that, “Doctors and hospitals have the right to refuse to perform any procedure that is inconsistent with their personal beliefs,” while 29 percent disagreed.
“The DHHS regulation instituted by President Bush before left office protects the rights of doctors and other health care providers to follow their conscience on issues, such as abortion, that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs,” said Matt Lytle, Director of Research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “If this order is rescinded, then doctors and other health care providers will either be forced to violate their conscience or face the possibility of facing disciplinary action.”
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