The Michigan House has passed a bill called the Conscientious Objector Policy Act; it would, in effect, give health care workers the right to object to treating certain patients on moral or ethical grounds. According to the bill text, health care providers at any health facility in Michigan can refuse to treat patients, as long as their condition is not life-threatening, on the basis of a provider’s “ethical, moral, or religious belief system.” He or she must provide the objection in writing to his or her employer. Interestingly, “a medical school… shall not refuse admission to an individual or penalize that individual” for issuing such an objection. However, you’re not allowed to discriminate based on any of the categories listed under civil rights (sex, religion, race, etc.), or “based on a disease or other medical condition.”
Michigan’s going to have a great time if this one gets passed. I’d love to be the medical student that refuses to treat patients when I’m having a bad week because I’ve recently converted to Christian Science, and in my new-and-improved moral framework, find it morally reprehensible to treat patients medically. (And I couldn’t be punished for it!) If you can’t think of any other loopholes, you’re not trying hard enough.
It’s a frightening precedent they’re trying to set–that you should be able to pick your patients, that it’s okay to pass judgment on them when they walk in the door. The consequences could be dire for rural residents, since many times there are no other doctors available.
Quick side note: this is obviously aimed at gays and abortion. But since the moral/ethical framework stuff is so loosely worded, couldn’t I refuse to treat anyone I wanted?
* I refuse to treat patients who smoke; supporting the tobacco industry is against my belief system.
* I refuse to treat patients who are hypochondriacs; not because they are hypochondriacs, but because they wash their hands so often. In my moral understanding, washing hands frequently is evil.
* I refuse to treat redheads; they’ve been marked with the red hair of the Devil.
* I refuse to treat people on Wednesdays; it is my day of rest.
* I refuse to treat the poor; I believe they should lift themselves up by their own bootstraps.
* I refuse to treat non-Christians; they’re not going to Heaven, so I find it ineffective to help them medically.
Do I think many physicians would do this? No. But it’s fundamentally against the medical profession, and the profession should fundamentally oppose it. If you learn one thing quickly in medical school, it’s that you don’t get to pick your patients. They come in all ranges of personalities, shapes, and sizes, but they’re here because they require your help, and well, the Michigan law just doesn’t mix well with that whole Hippocratic Oath thing. “First, do no harm,” is kinda tough to trump.