opinion   |   oped

EDITORIAL: Patient rights must take precedent over provider beliefs



Saturday marked the second annual Women’s March for Equal Rights. Women, men and children of all races, genders and sexual orientations marched together chanting about equal health rights and the direction of our nation’s future. 

This feels very timely with the Editorial Board’s latest complaint towards our government’s legislature: we simply do not agree that the Trump administration should enable the Department of Health and Human Services to protect healthcare providers that claim religious freedom and belief as a reason to deny proper healthcare.

This healthcare includes, but is not limited to: contraception, hormone replacement therapy for transgender patients, abortions, other reproductive organ procedures and sex reassignment surgery.

If this bill were to pass, doctors would have legal governmental protection for claims that they don't want to provide the above services based on their religious beliefs. It will be a retraction of legislature passed under Obama’s administration that prevented healthcare providers from denying transgender patients service. 

This is yet another step backward for the current administration from social progress, and yet another way to deny women and members of the LGBT community equal health rights. While doctors and other healthcare professionals will still have to uphold discrimination standards toward gender, we are not sure if the HHS will differentiate between sexual identity, gender and sexual orientation. We think they might. 

Furthermore, doctors should have to uphold a certain moral standard to take care of any and all patients, no matter the medical provider's own personal beliefs. Firefighters do not get to pick and choose who they want to pull from fires. 

Advocates for the proposed Conscience and Religious Freedom Division argue that the division will protect their First Amendment rights, which prohibits Congress from making laws that limit the establishment or prohibit the free exercise of a religion. It is important to protect these rights, but they cannot and should not take precedent over the lives and well-being of our fellow Americans. Jehovah's witnesses, for instance, cite religious reasons for their opposition to blood transfusions. Would this new division protect a doctor with such a belief from giving a blood transfusion to a patient during surgery or following a car accident? 

When doctors are starting out, they are given a code of ethics to follow when treating patients. The American Medical Association defines this code explicitly as what “guides physicians to meet the ethical challenges of medical practice.” 

The code of ethics has many subheadings and links on how the Code of Ethics deals with situations such as physician-patient relationships, consent, communication and decision making, genetics and reproductive medicine and professional self-regulation.

With this new proposed bill, we believe doctors would be violating all the aforementioned categories by claiming their religious beliefs are more important and binding than what would happen to their patient. We understand this code of ethics acts primarily as a general guide and is not legally binding, but it should still be especially meaningful to doctors. 

Since the passing of the Affordable Care Act, doctors, their families and hospitals have been worried about reduced salaries and increased workloads required to help pay for health insurance across the nation. Some older physicians even believe the government shouldn’t be getting involved with healthcare or the medical field.

If this new change to the HHS is enacted, the world won’t end. But, it will become a lot more complicated. Patients may have to do more intensive research before choosing a family physician to guarantee that they are not denied services. If local health practitioners no longer provide reproductive services, they may have to travel further to find a Planned Parenthood or women’s center that provides abortions and contraception. 

For highly technical procedures, such as sex reassignment surgery, even more work may be necessary to find a doctor who is willing to perform such an operation. 

And for the doctors, hospitals and insurance companies out there that want to refuse sex reassignment surgery to transgender patients, you might be missing out on tens of thousands of dollars just for the various surgeries alone. Not to mention, the cost of a surgical abortion is astronomical and depends on how far along the pregnancy is. It can cost on average anywhere between $300 to over $3,000. Going to a hospital or doctor’s office makes the procedure even more expensive

Patients are not asking for these procedures just because they want them and want to spend their savings for fun. Patients need these procedures and they need healthcare professionals to be willing to do them. It is amoral to put your beliefs over the safety of another human being. 

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