Personal Beliefs Can Pit Healthcare Workers Against Patients and Colleagues
John Rossheim / Monster Senior Contributing Writer
An EMT instructed to transport a woman to an abortion clinic declines, citing personal beliefs. A nurse ordered to administer a large dose of morphine to a terminal cancer patient in pain refuses, saying the medication could hasten death. A physician turns away a gay patient, apparently on the basis of his sexual orientation.
Are these scenarios examples of healthcare workers asserting their right of individual conscience, or are they unethical, perhaps illicit denials of patients’ rights to receive medically appropriate treatments?
This question is at the center of a simmering debate that is moving beyond pharmacists who refuse to dispense contraceptives to other hot-button issues, such as in vitro fertilization, physician-assisted suicide and stem-cell research, affecting a wide variety of specialties in healthcare. Although there’s no reliable statistical evidence that more US healthcare workers are refusing to treat on moral grounds, anecdotal evidence indicates the phenomenon is growing. A variety of bills and laws, mainly on the state level, either grant or deny healthcare workers the right to refuse treatment.