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Personal Beliefs Can Pit Healthcare Workers Against Patients and Colleagues

Personal Beliefs Can Pit Healthcare Workers Against Patients and Colleagues

John Rossheim / Monster Senior Contributing Writer

Employer-Employee Communication Makes a Difference

Partisans on both sides say it’s important for healthcare workers to inform their employers about what procedures they won’t perform — before they are asked to perform them. Some jurisdictions require such notification.

“A California law requires that pharmacists reveal to their employers which treatments they won’t provide,” says Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center.

Conversely, healthcare employers have a duty to inform job candidates if they won’t tolerate treatment refusals. “Companies need to lay out the terms of the job and the expectations when workers are hired,” says Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics.

Some assert that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forces employers to share the burden of reconciling workers’ beliefs with patients’ rights. “When an employee makes a request based on religious belief, the employer must attempt a reasonable accommodation but need not take on an undue hardship,” says Francis Manion, senior counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice, which represents healthcare workers who have refused to treat.

Still, workers who decline to provide treatment run the risk of alienating peers. “Coworkers will think you’re nuts or evil, but that’s just how life is,” says Kevin McDonnell, a philosophy professor at all-female Saint Mary’s College, which is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, and a specialist in medical ethics.

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