After two years of struggling to balance the rights of patients against the beliefs of health-care workers, the Obama administration on Friday finally rescinded most of a federal regulation designed to protect those who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds.
The decision guts one of President George W. Bush’s most controversial legacies: a rule that was widely interpreted as shielding workers who refuse to participate in a range of medical services, such as providing birth control pills, caring for gay men with AIDS and performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women…The new rule leaves intact only long-standing “conscience” protections for doctors and nurses who do not want to perform abortions or sterilizations. It also retains the process for allowing health workers whose rights are violated to file complaints.
This strikes me as an entirely reasonable compromise. There must be some limit on the extent to which people can use their religious (or, for that matter, other philosophical) beliefs to force their employer to allow them to opt out of some of their job. It’s not always easy to say where that line should be drawn, but the Obama administration seems to have got it right on this occasion.
I touched on a related issue a few years back in course of a discussion on the Corner:
David, your post raises some extremely intriguing issues. When should reasons of conscience allow people to opt out of aspects of their job? Would you, for example, allow the owner of a drug store to fire a pharmacist he employed if, contrary to his instructions, that pharmacist declined to dispense the ‘morning-after’ pill? The drug store is, after all, his property.
As to the related issue of professionals being forced by the state to do things that they find morally abhorrent as a condition of receiving the license that they need to practice their trade, I wonder what you think about this story from the London Times:
“Some Muslim medical students are refusing to attend lectures or answer exam questions on alcohol-related or sexually transmitted diseases because they claim it offends their religious beliefs. Some trainee doctors say learning to treat the diseases conflicts with their faith, which states that Muslims should not drink alcohol and rejects sexual promiscuity. The religious objections by students have been confirmed by the British Medical Association (BMA) and General Medical Council (GMC), which both stressed that they did not approve of such actions.”
Of course there is a big difference between being trained to carry out a procedure, and being compelled actually to do it, but the whole piece is well worth reading: it covers some of the issues, and some of the conundrums, that you raise.