Oklahoma Gives Right-to-Life Doctors the Right to Lie

06/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Lennard Davis Distinguished Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

Hippocrates is turning over in his grave.

Oklahoma just passed a series of laws best described as anti-patient and anti-doctor in the name of being "pro-life." In addition to requiring pregnant women to have an ultrasound and requiring the doctor who does this to describe the fetus in detail doctors will be protected from lawsuits if they deliberately lie about birth defects. If pro-life (a contradictory term in this context) doctors see that a child might have a congenital disorder or disease, and they feel the mother will abort if told, they can now just withhold this information. In other words, they can outright lie with impunity and they will be protected by the law.

This is a dangerous wind that is sweeping down the plains. If the Hippocratic oath says "Do no harm," is it possible to imagine that no harm is done by institutionalizing and ratifying clinical lying? What is next? Can doctors withhold other kinds of information from patients and be protected? The possibilities are limitless.

The law is also problematic because it assumes that mother's told of a "genetic defect" will automatically abort. Many mothers will want to continue the pregnancy, and some might even value children with disabilities. But the point is that each mother should have the right to choose based on the best possible knowledge. We hire doctors to give us as much information as possible about our illnesses. They are not given the power to make decisions for us, but to be facilitators for our own informed consent. Indeed, one of the fundamental tenets of bioethics is informed consent. How informed can consent be when doctors fail to inform?

For Oklahoma to be OK it will have to change this benighted law and bring back respectability to its medical professionals.