U.S. Physicians Divided Over 'Right of Conscience' Bill

Most physicians believe fertility doctors do not have the right to refuse to help a patient conceive by artificial insemination based on the patient's marital status or sexual orientation, according to the results of a recently released survey.

And only 1 in 5 (22 percent) believe they do, reported researchers at HCD Research after conducting the Dec. 22-29 study. The remaining 26 percent had no opinion.

Taken just days after the Bush administration enacted the "right of conscience" bill, the new national study asked a number of questions regarding what rights physicians feel they and their colleagues should have or not have.

While a large majority of physicians agree that pharmacists do not have the right to refuse to fill a patient's prescription based on the patient's marital status and that healthcare professionals do not have the right to withhold information about where a patient can obtain the care that they refuse to administer, they were notably divided over the remaining questions.

When asked whether the government should be involved in protecting health workers who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable, 36 percent agreed, 31 percent disagreed, and the remaining 33 percent had no opinion.

Also closely dividing physicians was the question over whether doctors and hospitals have the right to refuse to perform any procedure that is inconsistent with their personal beliefs. The survey found 39 percent of physicians believing that there is such a right while 29 percent believed that there is none. The remaining 32 percent had no opinion.

Lastly, the study found that while physicians were torn over whether the government should be involved in protecting health workers who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable, they were two times more likely than not (43 to 22 percent) to agree that funding should not be cut for any institution/organization that does not accommodate health workers who do so.

Despite the last result, half of physicians overall expressed support for the "right of conscience" bill, while 33 percent indicated they did not support the rule and 19 percent had no opinion.

The "right of conscience" bill, which was enacted on Dec. 18, grants new protections for health care workers who refuse to provide care that violates their personal beliefs. It also calls for a cut in federal funding for any institution that does not accommodate health workers who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable. In addition, the bill acts as a safeguard against workers being fired, disciplined or penalized for their actions.