The medical ‘conscience clause’ in the Republican Party’s 2008 platform undermines the precious balance between provider and patient rights and, like three other federal statutes, may allow medical professionals to withhold medical information from patients:
No healthcare professional, doctor, nurse, or pharmacist — should ever be required to perform, provide for, or refer for a healthcare service against their conscience for any reason.
And while professional medical organizations and most in the medical profession “endorse a provider’s right to step away, or ‘withdraw,’ from providing a health care service that violates his or her moral or religious beliefs,” they also believe that “there must be limits to this right in order to ensure that patients receive the information, services and dignity to which they are entitled.”
– “The physician may not discontinue treatment of a patient as long as further treatment is medically indicated, without giving the patient reasonable assistance and sufficient opportunity to make alternative arrangements for care.” —World Medical Association, Declaration on the Rights of the Patient
– “The patient’s right of self-decision can be effectively exercised only if the patient possesses enough information to enable an intelligent choice….The physician has an ethical obligation to help the patient make choices from among the therapeutic alternatives consistent with good medical practice.” —American Medical Association, position statement on informed consent
– “Where a particular treatment, intervention, activity, or practice is morally objectionable to the nurse….the nurse is justified in refusing to participate on moral grounds….The nurse is obliged to provide for the patient’s safety, to avoid patient abandonment, and to withdraw only when assured that alternative sources of nursing care are available to the patient.”—American Nurses Association, Code of Ethics
A survey of physicians published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that most “believe that physicians are obligated to present all options (86%) and to refer the patient to another clinician who does not object to the requested procedure (71%).”
As Adam Sonfield of the Guttmacher Institute points out, “professional standards” — not rigid ideology — should “remind everyone that responsibility to the patient must always be the top priority and that a right to withdraw must never be turned into a right to obstruct.