by LD Wardle
Health Progress 1993 Jul-Aug;74(6):79-83.
Although the federal government and most states have enacted laws protecting healthcare providers’ rights to refuse to provide or participate in procedures to which they have moral or religious objections, most such laws are deficient and many have been met with hostile judicial interpretations that have diminished their scope and strength. Deficiencies found in nearly all conscience clause laws include limitations on the specific conduct or procedures protected, restrictive definitions of the healthcare providers covered, and inadequate implementing procedures and remedies. Most conscience clause statutes fail to provide more than token protection for healthcare providers’ rights of conscience. Increasing duress on healthcare providers who assert rights of conscience can be expected from three sources. First, some medical schools have considered refusal to participate as a negative factor in the admission process. Second, greater financial pressures on the American healthcare system may cause nonmonetary factors to be sacrificed to the exigencies of the moment. Third, all healthcare reform plans propose an increase in the federal government’s role in providing healthcare. At present, the only federal statutory protection for healthcare providers’ rights of conscience covers participants in only a few federal programs, is poorly conceived, and is sorely inadequate.