“When I grow up, I want to be a doctor!” How many of us said those words when we were younger? Young children often play doctor or nurse, not because of a drive for prestige or praise, but out of their capacity to love. Those young dreamers all shared the wish to become a doctor not out of self-importance but to care for people. Medical conscience and religious freedom protections are vital for protecting and encouraging these dreams.
So, what does this have to do with religious freedom?
Simply put, religious freedom in part guarantees our right to live out love towards others based on our religious convictions. The medical profession lends itself beautifully to showing great love towards our fellow brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, at alarming rates, the capacity of the country to provide doctors and nurses and ensure a diverse workforce – these freedoms – is being undermined by policies that violate the religious freedom and conscience rights of medical professionals and students studying in the various medical and health care fields religious freedom.
While many have the desire and dream to enter the medical field, rising hostility to the practice of medicine informed by religious and moral convictions is deterring many young people from freely pursuing their vocation to medicine. The health care industry’s opposition to medical conscience and religious freedom and increasing embrace of abortion and other unethical procedures are causing college students and other young people to avoid entering certain areas of health care or from entering the health care profession altogether.
Just weeks ago, news broke of a recent federal court filing indicating that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services intends to take regulatory action that compel medical professionals and health care institutions to violate their conscience and religious beliefs and thereby make it virtually impossible for many faith-based hospitals, medical professionals, and pro-life health care centers to legally operate.
Sadly, the individuals who have vocational calls to care for the sick and who have spent years in medical school or other health programs – are experiencing discrimination because of their religious or moral beliefs. Proposed legislation in California would bar Catholic hospitals from public university partnerships such as with the University of California Health, due to restrictions on certain morally objective procedures. This legislation would not serve to provide greater medical access but rather would restrict access. Medical students from University Health would no longer be able to enter clinical education or residency programs at Catholic hospitals; patients would have increased difficulty moving between hospitals. Dr. Carrie Byington, Executive Vice-President of University of California Health, testified that “low-income and rural communities and people of color” would be the most affected by this legislation and that it could lack care, “life-threatening [in some instances], and exacerbate health disparities.”
What are the consequences?
This hostile environment to faith-based medical professionals and hospitals directly harms our country’s ability to retain health care workers and provide sufficient health care access to the sick. A 2009 study examined the link between retention of medical professionals and moral distress. In the end, the study concluded that moral distress plays a significant role in a medical professional’s decision to continue practicing. (Cynthia L. Cummings, The effect of moral distress on nursing retention in the acute care setting (Jacksonville, FL: University of North Florida Press, 2009). Increased opposition to, isolation of, and even discrimination against pro-life medical professionals and faith-based health care centers will only negatively impact health care access for the most vulnerable.
What happens if this discrimination is allowed to happen?
- Medical professionals will be forced to violate their beliefs
- People will lose their jobs for persevering in their convictions
- The poor and vulnerable will have diminished health care access
- Hospitals will close
Moral and religious convictions are the very foundation of providing health care to the sick and suffering. The right of conscience and the right to religious freedom are fundamental civil rights for medical professionals. In protecting these rights, doctors and nurses are empowered to use their best medical judgment and to courageously live out their vocation to love and care for the sick and suffering. Protecting the rights of doctors and nurses is not only best for the medical professional but also best for the patient.