Bush Administration Puts Religion Above Medicine in HSS Conscience Rule; Undermines Patient Rights

For Immediate Release: Dec. 18, 2008
Contact: Anne Singer, 202-271-4679

WASHINGTON, DC - The Bush Administration today implemented the Provider Conscience Regulation (RIN 0991-AB48) through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Its purpose is to allow medical personnel and volunteers to refuse to participate in any practice they find morally objectionable. This rule has been widely criticized for the effects it will have on OB/GYN care; however, other areas of patient care will also be compromised under this rule and many groups of Americans could see their medical treatment undermined as a result.

The Secular Coalition for America wrote to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt in August of 2008 when the rule was first proposed. Today, the Secular Coalition's director, Lori Lipman Brown, issued the following statement in response to the rule's implementation:

"The so-called Provider Conscience rule flies in the face of the fundamental principle that the rights of one citizen end where the rights of another begin. The sweeping language of this rule shows an alarming indifference to the rights of patients in publicly funded health care facilities.

"I am especially worried about end of life care under this new rule. The Terri Schiavo ordeal, in which Congress intervened to impose a Biblical value about human life onto a family struggling with a difficult medical decision, mobilized untold numbers of Americans to arrange for advance directives should they become unable to express their wishes during a medical crisis. This new rule tells Americans that their wishes matter less than the religious beliefs of the nurse or doctor who happens to be treating them.

"While we are glad to hear that the incoming Obama Administration plans to review this rule after taking office next year, we are saddened to think how many people will be denied vital medical services because the Bush Administration is once again privileging religion over science and medicine."

The Secular Coalition for America's original letter (.pdf) to Secretary Leavitt can be read here:
http://www.secular.org/news/HHS_provider_conscience_regulation.pdf

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The Secular Coalition for America represents nine national coalition partners who share the view that a secular government offers the best guarantee for freedom of thought and belief for all Americans. It works to protect the civil rights of nontheistic Americans, and lobbies the U.S. Congress on issues of concern to its constituents. The Coalition's website is www.secular.org.

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