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Provider Conscience or God Complex?

Jesse Taylor

The new HHS provider conscience regulations aren't a problem simply for women of childbearing age. Your body is now the tableau of conscience for whatever doctor or pharmacist you draw.

Imagine that you went to your doctor, and he told you that, according to the dictates of his conscience, he couldn’t perform a procedure on you.

Now imagine that he wouldn’t tell you where you could get the procedure done. Or how to find out who was good at the procedure. And then, when you’re walking out the door, looking forward to the research and travel you’re going to have to do in order to get the perfectly legal procedure performed, he tells you what his now federally protected problem is with the procedure.

Sterilization, he explains, kills germs and other microorganisms. And since humanity – and, in fact, all life on earth – evolved from the tiniest of organisms, he cannot in good conscience kill the potential future sentient species that may be invisibly crawling around in your gut. Every life is sacred, after all, even the ones that won’t actually be recognizably sentient until a few hundred thousand years from now.

There’s a problem with the Department of Health and Human Services’ new regulations allowing for medical professionals – from doctors and nurses to EMTs and pharmacists – to exercise their conscience when it comes to providing not just abortion but all kinds of medical care. The problem isn’t the recognition of conscience itself, but the contention that conscience in a particularly and consistently skewed manner supercedes everything else.

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Imagine the example above, and a new presidential administration creating regulations that allow for the "preservation of future species" as a rationale for declining medical services. Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth! The radical evolution lobby is threatening our health, our very well being for the preservation of something that exists as the barest glimmer of potential life!

Many policy analysts in the reproductive health community concur that the new HHS rules allow for medical professionals (a word used loosely for those who buy into this) to define contraception as abortion, even contraception that prevents the pregnancy necessary for abortion to happen. If a doctor or other medical professional is anti-choice, that’s their right. But much as the right to swing your fist ends at the other man’s nose, your right to deny valid medical care to someone who’s entrusted you with their well-being ends at the endangering of their health and their rights.

HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt posts the following on his blog:

Is the fear here that so many doctors will refuse that it will somehow make it difficult for a woman to get an abortion? That hasn’t happened, but what if it did? Wouldn’t that be an important and legitimate social statement?

There is no more frightening statement coming out of the mouth of the man who oversees federal guidelines on medical care than this. "Hey, what if it’s hard to get legal medical care? Wouldn’t that be keen?" This isn’t some idle musing – it’s someone with a lot of power musing about the super-awesomeness of the people with your life in their hands getting to decide on the basis of personal morality whether or not you deserve medical care.

Imagine if you’re a 30-year-old man who’s had a botched vasectomy, and you’re denied care by your urologist because she believes your procedure was immoral. Imagine you’re a 19-year-old woman who’s left on an ER operating table with an impossible-to-deliver fetus in her womb, writhing in agony because the doctors on call refuse to save your life.

This isn’t a matter simply for women of childbearing age. Your body is now the tableau of conscience for whatever doctor or pharmacist you draw – you may luck out and get someone with some sense, but you may also find yourself under the care of a person who decides that they’re going to live out their nascent God complex. You are now in danger, irrespective of gender or age, of having your medical care determined not by the danger to your body but instead by the danger to the spirit of the person treating you.

The expectation we have, bred by medical professionals who view their duty for care as their paramount consideration, is that the person who’s being treated is the one who comes in with the medical problem, not the one who comes in with the ill-conceived ethical problem.