April 9, 2009
Department of Health and Human Services
Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments
Hubert H. Humphrey Building
200 Independence Ave., S. W., Room 716E
Washington, DC 20201
We write to you on behalf of St. Gianna Physicians Guild and its members with regard to the proposed rescission by President Barack Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), of the regulations appended to the federal Conscience Clause by President Bush on December 19, 2008. The federal Conscience Clause permits doctors to refuse to provide abortions if they are morally opposed to them. The regulations added by the Bush administration extended the federal Conscience Clause to include all workers in health-care settings to assure they could refuse without recrimination to provide services, information or advice to patients on subjects such as contraception, family planning, blood transfusions and vaccine counseling if they are morally opposed to them.
Although HHS says that it wants to rescind the rule primarily to require providers to give information on family planning and contraception, which of itself is an unacceptable infringement of the basic rights for freedom of conscience, the incremental expansion of the requirements to include abortion and other morally offensive acts is almost a certainty. Members of congress are currently preparing to reintroduce FOCA, and President Obama has already promised to sign it into law. Furthermore, if the Bush regulations are rescinded, it will not be long before the powerful abortion lobby will demand that our legislature delete the Hyde-Weldon amendment that extends conscience protection to individuals and health care entities that refuse to perform, pay for, or refer for abortion.
One could ask what kind of country it is whose Government gives serious consideration to a policy depriving any group, but particularly the medical profession, of a right to freedom of conscience, and specifically with respect to performing or participating in the termination of innocent and absolutely defenseless human life. Should not the Government be the “first responder” in our society for the protection of the most innocent, the most helpless, and the most vulnerable?
Religious freedom and the right of conscience are among the values that each and every American citizen should have a fundamental right to. We, as an organization representing Catholic physicians and other health care workers, see that unjust laws pose dramatic problems of conscience for morally upright people when they are called to cooperate in morally evil acts and must refuse. As a moral duty this refusal is also a basic human right which, as such, should be recognized and protected by civil law.
No person should be required to choose between their profession and their conscience or religious beliefs. Patients should be free to choose their physician just as a physician should be able to choose how they practice medicine. Neither the Government nor the patient should dictate that the physician act in a way that violates the physician’s moral or ethical principles. Patients should also be able to find a health care provider that shares the same moral and religious beliefs they do and should not have to be exposed to advice that is contrary to their moral principles.
Where will this end? There are already several states with laws permitting physician assisted suicide. In some states pharmacists, hospitals, and doctors are required to provide abortifacients and contraceptives. And there are insurance companies and employers being obliged to provide insurance coverage for abortion against the principles of their conscience. We also see an increase in “respected” authorities and academics advocating that parents be allowed to terminate, or have terminated, undesired or undesirable newborns and infants. It is also becoming more and more frequent that we hear about the need for life support be withdrawn from the comatose and terminally ill. In some places these policies are viewed as progressive, compassionate, and, of course, most important of all – economical.
While the temptation by some in our country to force health care providers to violate their consciences or close shop exists, it is unnecessary and contrary to the most foundational principles of this great country.
Therefore, we urge the President, officers of his administration and Members of Congress to protect the freedom of physicians and all health care workers to care for patients under the ethical principles to which they are committed--by preserving existing federal civil rights laws and the existing Health and Human Services regulation 73 Fed. Reg. 78072 (published 12/19/2008) that implements those laws.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important and vital issue.
Thomas J. McKenna
C. Paul Morrow, M.D.
St. Gianna Physician's Guild
P. O. Box 910308 San Diego, California 92191