Top Public Health Official Urges Conscience Protections

Here is a thought-provoking Op-Ed by Admiral Joxel Garcia, MD, the assistant secretary for health with the Department of Health and Human Services, published in The Washington Times.  He begins, “There is no more sacred right than the right of conscience – the right to be guided by one’s own cherished beliefs and morall convictions. In certain professional fields, like health care, questions of conscience are particularly likely to emerge.

More of the editorial:

As a long-practicing OB/Gyn, I can personally attest to the need for greater awareness and protection of health-care workers’ rights under the law. Not once during my entire span of medical training and practice did anyone reference my legal rights to abstain from performing actions that contradicted my conscience. In reality, many health-care workers routinely face pressure to perform actions that violate their personal convictions.

On several occasions in the past three decades, Congress has passed laws protecting health-care workers’ ability to act consistently with their rights of conscience. But there is mounting pressure to disregard these laws.

Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has just proposed a regulation to increase awareness of and compliance with the law. This should be viewed as a positive development and a welcome point of agreement across the political spectrum. Instead, it is being criticized by people who seem to think that health-care workers should be compelled to perform certain medical services against their will.

Health-care providers are not merely the equivalent of vending machines, robotically providing a service once they receive enough money – and thankfully so. Like most Americans, I expect a high standard of care for myself and my family, and I cherish the freedom to choose a provider who shares my convictions.

Some critics suggest that health-care workers with strong, personal convictions should simply get out of the medical field. Such a narrow-minded view shows a lack of concern not only for health-care workers but for patients and their health.

To be clear, nothing in the proposed regulation in any way threatens a patient’s ability to receive any legal service. At the same time, nothing in the decisions of the Supreme Court or in the laws of Congress obligates health-care workers to provide or to participate in every legal service. To the contrary, federal law explicitly shields health-care workers and institutions from such unwanted obligations.

The proposed HHS regulation is fully consistent with Americans’ longstanding commitment to the right of conscience and the rule of law, and it should be adopted.

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