Should medical practitioners be allowed to withhold information and treatment from patients that they find morally objectionable based on their religious beliefs?
Apparently some Christian medical practitioners feel that they have the right to provide only those modern medical services that they believe are square with their Bronze Age god. This isn’t a new issue but if you haven’t heard of it yet here’s a current article from CNN: Christian doctors’ group protests rolling back ‘conscience’ rule. It seems that they believe that it is their right to withhold even the knowledge of the existence of certain medical options from their patients if they find them morally objectionable. No surprise that George “The Theocrat” Bush thought this was a good idea. Thankfully Obama sees it differently.
Why do I think Obama has it right on this issue? Well, for starters, these medicos are assisting people who are faced with an overwhelming lack of knowledge regarding the subject matter. Many of these patients have nothing more than their high school health class to go on for information regarding all of their potential health issues… if they’re lucky. Is a one semester class enough to adequately prepare people to make informed decisions about their health for the rest of their lives? I don’t think so. Therefore, we as a society are depending on medical professionals to provide education along with treatment so that people can make their own decisions. If doctors are allowed to alter a standard treatment path for a condition based on their unsupported religious beliefs (redundant, I know) then they are forcing their beliefs on their patients without even informing them that what is dictating their treatment regimen is dogma while the patient, quite naturally, assumes that it is the best medical science has to offer.
Furthermore, they are doing this without any actual evidence to inform their actions. These are people who are supposed to be practicing “evidence-based” medicine, meaning that they perform tests and gather evidence to develop a diagnosis. In other words they don’t just pull diagnoses from the same un-sunlit region from whence come their religious beliefs. Are you going to trust the diagnosis of an individual with such a tenuous grasp of the scientific method? I know I won’t.
Let me illustrate where this could go if it isn’t checked now by fabricating an admittedly extreme example. OK, so I go into the doctor complaining of pain in my right abdomen. The doctor palpates the region and determines that I have an inflamed appendix, i.e. appendicitis. Now this is a common enough malady that is easily treated by the surgical removal of the offending organ. Many people have had this operation with no ill effects. So commonplace is this treatment that is even the subject of the famous children’s book Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans first published in 1939. Well, this particular doctor believes that those afflicted with this ailment have somehow offended his god and deserve their fate so he decides not to inform me of any treatment options and simply tells me that I don’t have long to live. Not knowing any better, and trusting the advice of this august personage, as we have been socialized in Western culture to do, I go home to inform my family of the grim news. Pretty horrendous stuff, huh? So you say my example is too far-fetched to be worth anything? OK, now replace appendicitis in the above example with HIV and you have a situation that I suspect is occurring right now, today, in this country, under the rule signed by Bush! Are you with me now?! This is serious, and real, people.
Sadly, my cynical nature tells me that regardless of what the law says many medicos are going to exercise their conscience and withhold vital information from patients even after this rollback. I call on you now to join me in demonstrating to the medical profession how absurd the “conscience” rule is. It’s very simple. When the doctor first enters the exam room ask him/her, “Do you support the ‘conscience’ rule or do you leave the moral decisions, if any, to your patients?” If they support the “conscience” rule, ask them what their religion is. Then, no matter what they answer, insist on seeing an atheist doctor since they are the only ones you can trust.
I think this is a great issue for the secularist movement because it’s a win win situation. Either the Executive Order is rolled back and sanity is restored, or medicos are allowed to continue this practice and we, the informed public, can discriminate legally against those that do us a disservice in the name of their dogma. I, for one, want the latest wizzbang gizmos hooked up to my body anytime anything is remotely suspected of being wrong, or at least I’d like that option.