The threat to a patient or doctor’s conscience is a stark reality in today’s society. Not only are conscience protections critical for a robust health care workforce, but it is also critical in that conscience protects the doctor-patient relationship for health care.
A baby-wellness visit becomes a debate of conscience for one mom feeling pressured by the doctor for not vaccinating her child. She objects as a matter of her religion to fetal cells from an aborted baby being used in some vaccines.
An elderly wife worries about the constant threat of end-of-life treatment that would not provide food and water to her husband just because he is dying. She still believes in his dignity and wants to protect the sanctity of his life until his natural death. It is her religious right.
A doctor has to navigate patient care and financial gain regardless of the treatments he knows are best for his patients. The hospital has an understandable but undue focus on profitability. The insurance companies and the government dictate treatments based disproportionately on cost. None of these examples affirm the patient’s or the doctor’s right of conscience, religious freedom, and the preservation of human dignity.
The trend of imposing value judgments and beliefs that are inconsistent with the objective truths of human dignity is beyond the scope of medicine. Instead of having the freedom of practicing medicine consistent with their moral, ethical, and religious convictions, doctors are being pressured and coerced into complying with rules from the federal, state, or other health care systems that violate their own convictions about what is best for the patient–pitting the patient against the doctor in a relationship that used to be held in deep respect and mutual esteem.
In this scenario, too often, doctors become afraid of losing their careers, are impeded from providing the highest quality of care, and patients do not receive the best care that they deserve because of it. For many doctors, practicing medicine is more than a job, but a vocation to the service of the human person.
Patients become apprehensive of going to the doctor. They don’t like being told it is Ok and medically correct in some fashion to go against their conscience.
How to safeguard your right of conscience
- Become knowledgeable by reading the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services which serve as a guide not only for Catholic hospitals but also for other medical professionals and medical entities of goodwill.
- Understand that doctors committed to serving the human person are seeing their rights of conscience and religious freedom to practice medicine threatened just as much as the patients.
- Know that people are advocating for mutually beneficial doctor and patient rights of conscience and religious freedom.
Understand the main points of religious freedom
- Patients deserve the choice to go to physicians and providers who will care for their unborn children and care for the dignity of their families
- Patients deserve the choice to go to physicians and providers that will protect them.
- Any undermining of the patient-doctor relationship that violates the moral and religious convictions of both patients and doctors is wrong
- Value judgments and beliefs that go beyond the scope of medicine and violate the biological scientific realities of human dignity should not be tolerated.
The goodwill of the doctor-patient relationship is at stake if the very basic civil rights of conscience and religious freedom in healthcare decisions are undermined. The very nature of the human person means doctors view their patients in an integrated way – soul, mind, and body.
The doctor-patient relationship comes from the Gospels where we see Christ’s concern for the sick and the accounts of many physical, mental, and spiritual healings.
When rights to conscience and religious freedom are threatened between doctor and patient it hinders the healing process that Christ instituted in the Gospels.
“Such a relationship enables the patient to disclose personal information needed for effective care and permits the health care provider to use his or her professional competence most effectively to maintain or restore the patient’s health. Neither the health care professional nor the patient acts independently of the other; both participate in the healing process.” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s directives in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services)