Last week, The Daily Telegraph reported that doctors and nurses in the UK who have religious or moral objections to supplying "morning-after" pills are being discriminated against. If unwilling to administer the controversial, abortion-inducing drug, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists bans them from obtaining specialist professional qualifications.
The discrimination is not limited to Europe, as this troubling mindset has made its way across the pond to the United States. The American counterpart to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has guidelines which state "Physicians and other health care providers have the duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel that they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive services that patients request." The ambiguity of the phrases "timely manner" and "standard reproductive services" lead to arbitrary rulings by the governing body that directly impacts how morally concerned physician's care for their patients.
Many Ob-Gyn residents and medical students have informed the Christian Medical Association that they have faced discrimination due to their religiously-based views and were even formally censured for refusing to participate in elective abortions.
Beyond abortion procedures and pills, this discrimination extends to all manners of reproductive health and jeopardizes more than certifications.
A board certified Ob-Gyn in California relayed a situation involving a lesbian couple who contacted her about performing an intrauterine insemination fifteen years ago. She had a moral objection to the request, and not knowing what to do, she reached out to her malpractice carrier for advice. They told the physician that she could not refuse the requested service to the lesbian couple or any non-married couple as long as she provided the same service to married, heterosexual couples. This practice, dictated by her conscience, would subject the physician to a lawsuit and cause the insurance company to terminate her policy. As a result, the physician decided to stop performing intrauterine inseminations for all patients.
These sorts of moral dilemmas are creating a crisis in the medical community. Slowly but surely, faith-driven doctors and nurses (or those with the potential to be so) are foregoing these professions and making a living by doing something else. The day is coming when a Christian woman will not be able to find an Ob-Gyn who shares her deeply-held religious beliefs about life and other moral concerns.
She could also have difficulty finding a nearby hospital. Currently, one in six patients hospitalized in the United States is cared for in a Catholic hospital, whose underlying mission prevents it from facilitating abortion procedures. If obliged to go against their mission, and very purpose, these hospitals will close their doors.
As David Jones, director of a Roman Catholic bioethics institute in Oxford, explained to the Daily Telegraph, "This is a form of unjust discrimination against professionals on the basis of their personal beliefs and, indirectly, a form of discrimination against patients who share the same beliefs and who may wish to be treated by professionals with a sympathetic understanding of their position."
Conscience protections in health care have become absolutely critical for the welfare of physicians and patients and to maintain our health care system as a whole. If we neglect to protect these rights, we may find ourselves without any faith-based private health care options, and in short supply of physicians and hospitals nationwide.
As part of the Hippocratic Oath, doctors vow to do no harm to their patients, and, as a society, the least we can do is assure them of their right to honor that vow. Physicians should be free to practice medicine in a manner that is consistent with their oath as well as their conscience.