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Monday, April 13, 2020

Which Legal Approaches Help Limit Harms to Patients From Clinicians’ Conscience-Based Refusals?

R. Kogan, K. Kraschel, & C. Haupt
AMA J Ethics. 2020;22(3):E209-216.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2020.209.


This article canvasses laws protecting clinicians’ conscience and focuses on dilemmas that occur when a clinician refuses to perform a procedure consistent with the standard of care. In particular, the article focuses on patients’ experience with a conscientiously objecting clinician at a secular institution, where patients are least likely to expect conscience-based care restrictions. After reviewing existing laws that protect clinicians’ conscience, the article discusses limited legal remedies available to patients.

Potential Sites of Conflict

Clinicians who object to providing care on the basis of “conscience” have never been more robustly protected than today by state legislatures and federal law. Although US law as well as professional ethics allows clinicians to deviate from professional norms and standards when their religious or moral beliefs conflict with a requested service,1 the scope of legal remedies for patients harmed by these objections has shrunk as federal and state law has effectively insulated objecting clinicians from liability. This article outlines laws protecting clinician conscience and identifies questions that arise when a clinician refuses to perform a procedure consistent with the medical profession’s standard of care. We focus on patients seeking care at secular institutions where patients are least likely to have notice that care they receive could be restricted based upon an individual clinician’s refusal. As a result, patients may unknowingly receive substandard care from objecting physicians and even be harmed by their refusals. However, the legal remedies available to patients adversely affected by refusals are limited. We first discuss federal and state law governing refusals based on clinician conscience and then examine the remedies available to patients who suffer harm as a result of a physician’s refusal.

The info is here.