Ronit Y. Stahl and Ezekiel J. Emanuel
N Engl J Med 2017; 376:1380-1385
“Conscience clause” legislation has proliferated in recent years, extending the legal rights of health care professionals to cite their personal religious or moral beliefs as a reason to opt out of performing specific procedures or caring for particular patients. Physicians can refuse to perform abortions or in vitro fertilization. Nurses can refuse to aid in end-of-life care. Pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions for contraception. More recently, state legislation has enabled counselors and therapists to refuse to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) patients, and in December, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction against Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which forbids discrimination on the basis of gender identity or termination of a pregnancy.
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Objection to providing patients interventions that are at the core of medical practice – interventions that the profession deems to be effective, ethical, and standard treatments – is unjustifiable (AMA Code of Medical Ethics [Opinion 11.2.2]10).
Making the patient paramount means offering and providing accepted medical interventions in accordance with patients’ reasoned decisions. Thus, a health care professional cannot deny patients access to medications for mental health conditions, sexual dysfunction, or contraception on the basis of their conscience, since these drugs are professionally accepted as appropriate medical interventions.