Right of Conscience Law can Hurt Patients

Mandy Crest Health Guide
  • Do you trust your doctor to tell you the truth? Do you feel confident that you will be informed about your health status, and all available options? If your answer is yes, you might want to reconsider.

    The outgoing Bush administration has granted new protections for health care workers, allowing them the right to refuse to provide patient care... or even referrals... based solely on moral or ethical objections.

    These sweeping protections are extended to doctors' offices, pharmacies, hospitals, insurers, medical and nursing schools, diagnostic labs, nursing homes, and state governments. Workers involved in the preparation and cleanup of medical procedures and doctors' front office staff are also covered under the new rule.

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    Called the “right of conscience” rule, it promises to increase already high tensions between patients and health care workers. While it is likely that the rule was put in place to deal with health care workers opposed to abortion, contraception, and providing fertility treatments to homosexuals and single individuals, that is only the beginning of the list potentially dangerous consequences for patients.

    What protections do we, as patients, have if our health care workers withhold information vital to our health and well-being? What might our doctors (or their staff) find morally objectionable in our lifestyles? How are we to know and understand the “right of conscience” decisions of the health care providers we depend upon if they choose not to tell us?

    If the answers to the cause and cure to multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and other chronic diseases are derived from embryonic stem cell research, will the objections of health care providers keep us from accessing the information and services we so desperately need? What about terminal patients and end-of-life options?


    The doctor-patient relationship is already fragile. Patients depend on their physicians to inform them of all available options, just as doctors rely on us to be truthful with them. With insurers already creating a wedge between us, the last thing we need is another reason for mistrust and fear. What if patients choose not to mention a particular symptom, fearing a doctor's moral objections? With many medical conditions, time is of the essence, and there is no room for hesitation. Such an adversarial relationship could prove disastrous.

    Several major health organizations, including the American Medical Association, oppose the rule. It's clear that the Bush administration supports the rights of health care providers, but patients, whose very lives are at stake, are once again removed from the equation.

    It will be left to the Obama administration to see that patients' rights are protected.

Published On: December 22, 2008