Sunday, February 20, 2011

This Week: With liberty, justice, (and Plan B) for all

By now, many of you probably heard the news. On Friday, President Obama approved Secretary Sebelius’ partial annulment and revamp of the regulations regarding health professionals’ ability to refuse medical treatment on religious or moral grounds. The treatments in dispute are those of frequent controversy in our country: contraception, abortion, general family planning treatment and HIV/AIDS treatment for homosexual patients. Back in 2005, pharmacists and untreated patients were up in arms over the morning-after pill. As a 2005 WaPo article reported, there were countless pharmacists who refused to dispense Plan B even to married couples, because it violated their religious or moral beliefs. On the other side, were women who wanted to medically and safely stop a pregnancy they had not planned or were unprepared for. Like Kathleen Pulz, who requested Plan B after realizing the condom broke during intercourse with her husband, countless women had to go from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to obtain the medicine, or at least a referral for a medicine they were old enough and responsible enough to use. 

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s leave out those women who rely on Plan B as their main pregnancy prevention. That irresponsibility most definitely weakens the arguments of those who truly need help to be available at all times. At issue are those responsible individuals who have every right to family planning treatment, those who need HIV/AIDS treatment regardless of their sexual orientation, and the healthcare workers who abuse their power and impose an ethics lesson instead of providing medical treatment. 

Opponents to the legislation, like Republican Rep. Joe Pitts who is also a major adversary of the Affordable Care Act, argue that there will be more attacks on the conscience of medical workers. Jonathan Imbody, VP for government relations for Christian Medical Society is worried that health professionals can be fired on discriminatory grounds by those who do not support life-affirming health care. And to them, I say- duh! No, it’s never ok to fire someone strictly on the basis of what, or in whom, they believe. But, it’s also never ok to refuse to perform in-vitro fertilization for a woman because her life partner is a woman and not a man. So what will level ensure fair and equal opportunity to treatment, unless physicians and nurses are made to do their job regardless of whether they agree with their patient’s lifestyle or not? If an accused murder is brought into a hospital with a knife in his chest, it is a doctor’s obligation to save his life. The woman holding the scalpel must do what her medical degree and white coat ensure she can do; whether or not the murderer is dealt justice can be decided by a court of law, or God himself. 

In the new bill, the provisions that protect from prosecution recipients of federal funding who refuse to use those monies to perform abortions or sterilizations were not removed. Also protected are internship or residency applicants who refuse to perform or participate in abortions or sterilizations. No entity that receives government funding is allowed to deny an applicant on these grounds. The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services is still responsible for receiving complaints of discrimination or coercion rooted in the conscience protection statutes. 

In less than 30 days, when the bill becomes law, hopefully we see a shift toward more equality in the treatment of all patients, regardless of their race, gender, creed, religion, or sexual orientation. Wouldn’t you argue that it’s quite hypocritical for someone with such high moral character to refuse to use their talents as a medical professional to help someone in need? It’s hard to play the neutral party in this one, when so many people need an advocate for justice. 

So, what say you?

View the regulations here.

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