Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Do The Job

From the Toledo Blade editorial page:

The tension between some health-care workers’ personal beliefs and patients’ rights is getting plenty of attention these days.

Abortion gets most of the coverage, but there are medical professionals whose conscience or religion won’t let them take part in other procedures, from drawing blood to in-vitro fertilization.

This has set off a rush on the part of many states to develop proposals to protect health-care employees who won’t provide care that conflicts with whatever they believe in.

But why all the coddling? Nobody forces anyone to be a health-care professional. If you work in the elephant house at the zoo, you better be prepared to deal with pachyderms.

If employees don’t like doing certain completely legal procedures, they should quit their jobs – or employers should make that decision for them, and let them go.

Most states have laws that protect doctors, nurses, and other health-care workers from being sued, fired, disciplined, or the subject of legal action for refusing to have anything to do with abortions. But now we have pharmacists refusing to fill birth control or morning-after prescriptions. That’s not their call to make.

Yet there are measures under consideration in about 12 states that would allow them to overrule a doctor’s written directive – or protect doctors, nurses, aides, technicians, and other employees whose conscience won’t let them take part in a procedure.

In some cases we are talking about health workers’ objections to providing care to homosexuals.

As expected, conservative groups are happy with political efforts to protect these health-care workers and to clamp down on procedures that they consider morally objectionable.

The rise in proposals to protect this brand of “conscientious objectors” shouldn’t only cause alarm among groups targeted, from abortion rights and right-to-die advocates to HIV/AIDS prevention specialists. Every American should be worried. How would you like to be in pain and have some technician refuse to give you pain medication because of his religious beliefs?

Here’s something that people on both sides of the issue need to realize: Good health care cannot operate with only some of its employees willing to perform certain procedures.

Health-care workers have to do their jobs. If they don’t like what that means, maybe they should find some other line of work.

I don’t know why there should be any question about this issue, and I can’t imagine the logic a state legislature would employ to justify a “conscious clause” exception for health care. (Of course, if they bring religion into it, then logic has no place.) We outlawed similar behavior with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 that made it illegal to deny someone the right to vote or equal accommodation on the basis of race, creed, color, or ethnic origin; why shouldn’t the same common sense apply to health care? Just as you can’t refuse to rent a house to someone because you don’t like their skin color, a pharmacist or nurse shouldn’t be allowed to decide on their own that they won’t treat a patient with a prescription they don’t approve of. Doctors do not get to make that call: they are duty-bound by their Hippocratic oath to treat the patient in front of them. The same should apply to the moralistic prig who couldn’t pass the MCAT and ended up working at Target.