A Reasonable Compromise

Via the Washington Post:

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balance the rights of patients against the beliefs of health-care workers, the Obama administration on Friday finally rescinded most of a federal regulation designed to protect those who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds.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.

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6 Responses to A Reasonable Compromise

  1. JC Penny says:

    Disagree. If anyone is working for someone else on anything, then an agreement has already been achieved as to the extent of the duties expected. We don’t need a POTUS telling us what job descriptions should look like in any field, including medicine.

    Besides, the concept of personal recusal has been around a tad bit longer than the US Constitution (which is silent on this subject). And the ramifications of using it have as well.

    Take the Muslim students refusing to answer standard medical questions for example. I am OK with that. Fail them.


  2. T Warburton says:

    Is that Dr. Kildare???
    Nice find.
    In any case, does this mean I don’t have to hire someone who will refuse what they are hired to do because of their religion? (IE: I can refuse to hire them because of their religion? – which means I get to ask them their religion before I hire them)- Job interview question: “Do you have any religious beliefs that would cause you to be unable to fulfill any of the following duties. etc??” If Yes – I don’t have to hire that person – right? Hmm.. wonder if that conflicts with some other employment discrimination rules?
    If your religion does not allow you to do the job – Why did you apply for the job? Are we marching into the looney bin here? Bush was wrong… M. Penney makes the point perfectly.

    On the other hand, we could continue to go with multiculturalism and simply have different medical queues for different cultures. This should simplify hospital administrators lives and certainly reduce the cost of health-care. All believers – First right – this church/mosque/etc will be your operating room. On your knees. Good luck!


  3. Jonathan says:

    I’m an anesthesiologist. If I were a Jehovah’s Witness, though interpretations of Acts 15:28, 29, I could refuse to give you a blood transfusion because of my religious beliefs.

    Would it be right for me to put my religious beliefs ahead of your medical needs? Even if this means you would die?

    Of course, this is why everyone wants a Jewish or Asian doctor.

  4. SFG says:

    “Of course, this is why everyone wants a Jewish or Asian doctor.”

    No, those are assessments of the mean IQs of various ethnic groups. HBD is a totally different can of worms. 😉

    Jews aren’t supposed to donate organs, and are supposed to stone homosexuals, for example. Apart from the Orthodox, it doesn’t seem to stop them from practicing transplant medicine.

  5. dmt117 says:

    There is a crucial difference between the Muslim and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious objections on the one hand, and Christian objections on the other.

    People with alcohol-related or sexually transmitted diseases are objectively unhealthy; so are people who need a blood transfusion. We may demand that a doctor act like a doctor. That is, we may demand that a doctor treat the unhealthy to the best of his ability to make them healthy, whatever their religious beliefs. This has been a cornerstone of Western medicine since Hippocrates.

    But, in the general case, someone demanding a condom or an abortion is not an unhealthy person asking a doctor to make him/her healthy. He’s demanding something that is only defined as “medical services” by Orwellian convention. The same thing goes for euthanasia. Euthanasia is part of “medical services” as much as junkyard auto-crushing is part of auto repair.

    Calling contraceptive dispensation and abortion “medical services” is not philosophically or politically neutral. It’s an attempt to avoid a true debate about the nature of these practices, and their place in our society, by hiding them behind a millenia-old cultural consensus that physicians have a duty to treat the sick.

  6. Nathan says:


    The STATE is granting an exclusive monopoly right to practice medicine, prescribe and dispense medicine, and these persons are suckling at that teat. If the practice of medicine offends them, perhaps they should find some livelihood that does NOT offend them. There should be NO RELIGIOUS exemption whatsoever – because the State’s coercive power is involved in forcing patients to use these monopolist welfare queens.


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