Right of Conscience Rule and a Slippery Slope
Do you know the moral and ethical values of your physician? If you think it doesn’t matter, think again.
This week, the “Right of Conscience” rule became reality, courtesy of the outgoing Bush administration.
The rule allows health care workers–including doctors, nurses, office workers, maintenance staff, pharmacists, etc.–to refuse not only to perform procedures, but to dispense information, offer referrals, or participate in any way in procedures or issues that would conflict with their moral beliefs.
Designed to protect the rights of health care workers, the vaguely worded rule puts patients’ rights to quality health care in serious jeopardy. While it is likely that the Bush administration saw this as an abortion issue, the “right of conscience” could be interpreted to mean objections to stem-cell research, contraception, end-of-life issues, powerful prescription medications … there is no end to the potential fallout.
It is not a huge leap to imagine a doctor refusing to inform homosexuals about AIDS treatment. What if the cure to type 1 diabetes should be found in embryonic stem cell research–and your doctor doesn’t tell you? What your doctor doesn’t tell you most definitely can hurt you.
If the physician you count on is under no obligation to inform you of his moral objections, how are you to know that you are receiving all the information you need?
The doctor-patient relationship depends upon on mutual trust. We must feel confident that our physicians are putting our health first, not passing judgement. Likewise, doctors cannot provide us with a proper diagnosis if we keep information from them. If we allow our fear of moral judgement to cause us to withhold vital information, the health consequences could be disastrous.
While health care professionals certainly have a right not to participate in objectionable procedures, “conscience” is a broad term. Unless physicians are willing to publicly post a list of their moral objections, patients’ rights may once again be left out of the health care equation.