Conscience protections for health professionals are long-standing and deeply rooted in our health care delivery system. For decades, AHA has called on hospitals to accommodate the differing convictions of their employees and medical staff by making provisions for them to decline to participate in delivering services they say they cannot perform in good conscience. Existing federal and state laws protect health care workers who express religious objections to performing certain procedures.
Last month, the Administration proposed to establish a Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom in the Office of Civil Rights designed to enforce conscience clause protections in health care. This provides us with an opportunity to reiterate that hospitals and health systems value all individuals they have the opportunity to serve, and oppose discrimination against patients based on characteristics such as race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
The decision to provide any particular health care service is a matter for hospitals and health systems to decide individually, based on the values and beliefs of their sponsors and the communities they serve. In addition, hospitals and health systems respect the differing convictions of their employees and medical staff by allowing them voluntarily, and without prejudice or penalty, to decline to participate in delivering certain services if they are in conflict with their personal moral, ethical or religious beliefs. At the same time, employees and medical staff should make clear, in advance, any specific interventions or services that they cannot provide in good conscience because of such deeply held personal beliefs.
Moreover, hospitals and health systems believe patients should have access to the information they need for treatment. And importantly, hospitals and health systems should take all actions necessary to protect patients, employees and medical staff from disruptive actions of protest by those with alternative views.
The AHA is carefully reviewing the Administration’s proposal and we look forward to engaging in a constructive dialog on the policy and its implications for patient care. Be assured, we will be guided by the field’s commitment to respect the values of both health care workers and the patients and communities we serve.
Rick Pollack is president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.