Those of you unfa­mil­iar with Pharyngula might have missed a link from PZ.

We have a new euphemism and a poten­tial new reg­u­la­tion from the Bush admin­is­tra­tion: “provider con­science rights”. What this is about is pro­vid­ing reli­gious doc­tors with loop­holes so that they can avoid respon­si­bil­ity for treat­ing patients with the best pos­si­ble care — so they can use reli­gious excuses to jus­tify neglect.

That’s not really hys­te­ria on PZ’s part; there’s rea­son to be con­cerned. I looked over the press release cov­er­ing this pro­posed change, and left a com­ment on the government’s feed­back sys­tem. You might want to do the same. My mes­sage to the fed is under the fold.

From the press release regard­ing this pro­posed change:

“This pro­posed reg­u­la­tion is about the legal right of a health care pro­fes­sional to prac­tice accord­ing to their con­science,” HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. “Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good pro­fes­sional stand­ing and vio­lat­ing their con­science. Freedom of expres­sion and action should not be sur­ren­dered upon the issuance of a health care degree.”’

I can­not dis­agree more, or more stren­u­ously. “According to con­science” is Trojan lan­guage that essen­tially means “accord­ing to reli­gious belief”. Despite pro­pa­ganda to the con­trary, the US is a sec­u­lar nation. Science is an utterly sec­u­lar pur­suit. And med­i­cine is sci­ence. Allowing a physi­cian to object to a med­ical pro­ce­dure on the basis of “con­science” is tan­ta­mount to allow­ing a biol­o­gist to reject the fact of evo­lu­tion on the basis of per­sonal discomfort.

This change is not an improve­ment. It’s merely an oppor­tu­nity for some health­care providers to impose their per­sonal moral beliefs on patients, essen­tially tak­ing on the role of pass­ing judg­ment with­out hav­ing to live with the con­se­quences. A physi­cian who does not believe a given pro­ce­dure is morally accept­able might want to con­sider chang­ing pro­fes­sions to some­thing more appeal­ing to his or her squea­mish nature.

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