Now is the time to raise our voices for patient choice and autonomy. From now until April 9th we must urge the Obama administration to repeal Bush's last-minute rule shielding health care workers who withhold from patients any treatment they consider morally objectionable.
Click here to email a comment to President Obama. Please tell the administration this malicious "Refusal rule" ("conscience rule" to its proponents) deserves prompt and total repeal.
The rule, pushed through in the waning days of Bush's tenure, elevates health care workers' moral and religious beliefs to ultimate protected status in our health care system. It's broad, ham-handed language sets workers' religious refusals above patient care. Above patient safety. WAY above the moral and religious beliefs of the patients these workers serve.
The Bush Refusal rule bars health care institutions and employers from requiring "...any individual to perform or assist in the performance of any part of a health service program..." that offends his/her religious beliefs or moral convictions. It stops employers from considering workers' refusals when hiring workers, promoting them, terminating them or extending practice privileges in their institution.
Some have compared health care workers' refusal to deliver treatment to an Amish refusing to drive a bus. Well, this silly rule would be like forcing the bus company to hire an Amish applicant, then prohibiting the company from firing or demoting him because he won't drive the bus.
The rule protects refusals even if they endanger the patient. It does not require refusers to give notice of a pending refusal. They're not even required to make sure "non-refusing" staff is ready to cover for them during a crucial treatment or procedure.
We at Compassion & Choices are most concerned with end-of-life care. Escalating pain at the end of life is a medical emergency. Medical workers who believe suffering is "God's will" may withhold pain medication because they believe suffering is redemptive. I'm not exaggerating. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported a good number of doctors would withhold an emergency treatment called "terminal sedation" from their patients because they believe it is morally improper. Many said they would not even tell patients this treatment is available. These zealots would see their patients in agony before they would provide a treatment that's "against their religion."
Some health care workers equate stopping extraordinary treatments like kidney dialysis or mechanical ventilation with choosing death, and they call it euthanasia. They could refuse to deliver comfort care to a patient who made those choices and remain perfectly safe from discipline under this rule.
Imagine all the things some might object to on religious or moral grounds: Blood transfusions, vaccinations, medication developed with stem cell technology, antibiotics, treatment arising from animal experimentation -- you name it.
Now imagine someone you love lying in an emergency room, their health or life depending on rapid, effective delivery of that treatment.
Then imagine a nurse, doctor, technologist, respiratory therapist or aide suddenly interfering with treatment, leaving the bedside, and refusing to participate because your loved one needs something they object to on religious or moral grounds.
Should federal law protect the person who delayed a critical treatment or prevented it altogether, even if your loved one suffered or died as a result?
We value our freedoms, especially religious freedom. But every freedom stops at the place where it would injure others. This so called "conscience" rule neither recognizes nor respects that boundary between religious freedom and harm to others.
Let's repeal the HHS "conscience" refusal rule in its entirety. The Bush administration should not be allowed to thwart good medical care for the sake of religious zealotry.