Saturday, May 29, 2010
Debating The Priority of Conscience.
In addition to providing an overview of religious exemptions, the panelists suggested ways to move toward a societal consensus—the “fair adjudication” hoped for by Hehir—while quieting the noisy, sometimes angry debates between those who believe the state must honor any claim of conscience made by a health care provider and those who think the state should automatically deny such claims. Hehir called for “civility, attention to evidence in the arguments, making the arguments on the basis of reason, not on innuendo and ad hominem.” He also said that providers should claim exemptions “only for essential issues, not capaciously.”
Greene echoed this point when he chided doctors who won’t even refer a patient for a procedure that they refuse, on religious grounds, to perform themselves. He compared these doctors’ reasoning with that underlying a mythical court case against a farmer whose corn was made into whiskey that, in turn, fueled the misdeeds of someone the farmer never met. “There has to be a limit,” Greene asserted, “to the reach and realm of conscience.” He also cited doctors’ ethical duty to avoid situations where moral conflict might arise. “If . . . you have an objection to providing emergency contraception or abortion care services,” he quipped, “you shouldn’t volunteer” at your local Planned Parenthood office.
Rogers, too, advocated “early disclosure” by physicians of their religious objections to any procedure that they might be called on to perform. “That should not be something [the patient discovers] down the road,” she said, “in a crisis, in a conflict.” In addition, she called for a balancing of the provider’s right of conscience with the patient’s right to treatment. “We need to respect the moral autonomy of both patients and health care providers,” she said. Of pharmacists who refuse to provide morning-after contraception, she said, “If there’s [another] pharmacy close by that can provide the service . . . that would be a mere inconvenience. But it’s something else where there’s an actual lack of access, and we need to differentiate between those” situations. In the political debate over religious exemptions, “we often see a complete unwillingness to recognize” the other side’s point of view, Rogers added, and thus she called for respectful dialogue, conducted outside the political arena, between people on all sides of the issue, with a goal of finding “common ground principles” that could then be presented as model legislation.