Changes and Rescission of “Conscience Clause”

February 21, 2011 in Doctors, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Insurance Reform, Individual Health Insurance, Primary Care Physician, Specialists

Changes and Rescission of “Conscience Clause”

By Ashley Ahle
February 21, 2011

In 2008, former President Bush put into act during his final days the 2008 Final Rule. This law aimed to further protect health-care employees, including Doctors, who chose not to perform certain medical procedures or assist with them due to religious or moral convictions. In January of 2009, President Obama sought to rescind this rule and further clarify the need to protect workers in these situations. What some opponents don’t realize is that for the past 30 or so years, the “Conscience Clause” has already been in effect.

Bush’s final rule, however, was never permanently enacted because it used “too broad of language” for the workers in the health care industry. Here is a little background into why this is a current issue with health care reform.

The “Conscience Clause,” originally known as the “Church Amendments,” were enacted in the 1970’s to clarify that federally funded health care facilities wouldn’t require their employees to perform medical procedures, like abortion or sterilization, if it went against their moral or religious beliefs. It also protected those people from being fired or wrongfully terminated because of those actions. On the very basic level this was essential in retaining the credibility of the Medical Field.

This original law went to include, beyond abortions and sterilizations, biomedical research, behavioral study programs and health study programs. Essentially, any person or entity receiving federal funding (grants, loans etc.) had the ability to opt out of providing certain medical services without recourse, if it went against their beleifs.

Under the new Affordable Care Act, no health plan offered in the health exchanges is allowed to discriminate against any provider or facility because of their unwillingness to provide, pay for, cover or refer for abortions. Obama moved to rescind part or all of the 2008 Final Rule because it’s power was thought to be too broad and unclearly written.

In order for protection of these individual’s beliefs, and for the 2008 Final Rule to work, there had to be some form of enforcement in place. These regulations included clear education of the “Conscience Clauses” to the public, working with state and local governments receiving federal funding to make sure they comply, and if compliance is deemed unsuccessful, non-discriminatory laws would be enforced by Department mechanisms to ensure Federal money is not going to supporting discrimination.

Obama’s original proposal to rescind or replace the ’08 Rule received over 300,000 public comments both for and against the changes. Many comments supporting Obama stated that the main fear with Bush’s rule is that patients would lose their right to receive services and that this blanket law would allow Doctors to easily refuse any kind of care.

Rescinding this rule allows patients the right to make unbiased informed decisions about their choices of treatment. If the ’08 rule stays the way it is, one runs the risk of letting informed decision making fall by the way side.

Everyone deserves the right to their beliefs and it goes both ways. Homosexual couples should be allowed to receive fertility treatments, and women who need life saving abortions should be able to receive them. Doctors and health care providers deserve their right to deny treatment, but they shouldn’t walk away form these patients either. Their duty as a Doctor, and one of their first oaths upon entering into their chosen field, is to ‘Do No Harm.’ Do No Harm. That’s what we all strive for.

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