March 3, 2024

Trump strengthens conscience rights of health care workers

But attacked for “endangering lives”

The Trump administration is putting the finishing touches on new rules to make it easier for health care workers to refuse to provide services that violate their religious or moral beliefs.

The guidelines will protect “physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities,” President Donald Trump said during Rose Garden remarks noting the National Day of Prayer. “Together, we are building a culture that cherishes the dignity and worth of human life.”

The administration said the new rules will strengthen enforcement of more than two dozen existing federal laws protecting conscience rights. “People and organizations do not have to shed their religious beliefs simply to help others in health care,” said Roger Severino, the director at the Department of Health and Human Services office for civil rights.

The move was swiftly criticised. “Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others,” said Louise Melling, of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives. … Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra suggested that his state may take the Federal Government to court. “It’s 2019, not 1920. We won’t go back to the days when Americans seeking healthcare faced discrimination simply because they were female or LGBTQ,” he said.

Melanie Israel, of The Heritage Foundation, took a more positive view of the Administration’s move: “The freedom to act, work and live in accordance with one’s conscience is a fundamental American principle. No person or entity should face discrimination or coercion for declining to participate in procedures, such as abortion or physician-assisted suicide, that violate sincere moral, ethical, or religious beliefs…

“For more than 40 years, federal law has protected conscience rights of Americans in the context of health care. While the Obama administration provided inadequate enforcement and oversight of federal conscience statutes, this final rule ensures that HHS will safeguard the rights of individuals and entities that dissent on morally sensitive or controversial procedures.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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