Freedom of religion is fundamental to the American concept of ordered liberty. But President Joe Biden doesn’t seem to care. If news reports are right, his administration intends to force doctors and nurses to participate in abortions — even when it violates their religious beliefs. It plans to force Catholic hospitals to violate Church teachings by requiring them to provide sterilization and gender transition procedures, even on children.
In short, the Biden administration will coerce health care workers and institutions to adopt the values of secular woke culture in their professional lives.
How? According to Politico and other news sources, the Department of Health and Human Services will soon promulgate regulations obliterating the medical conscience protections put into place during the Trump administration, designed to protect doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and hospitals against being punished for refusing to participate in medical procedures that violate their moral or religious beliefs.
The Trump approach made eminent sense. Today’s society is morally polyglot — and growing more so — with resulting controversies roiling health care as they have other sectors of society. In such a milieu, comity is the essential ingredient to maintaining societal cohesion. Medical conscience furthers this end by allowing patients to obtain legal, morally contentious procedures from willing professionals—while also permitting dissenting medical professionals to stay true to their own beliefs and continue to serve patients and society.
The Trump medical conscience rule was already stricken by a court, and the Biden administration indicated to the Court of Appeals that it would not defend it. But the absence of explicit conscience protections apparently isn’t enough for the cultural imperialists who now control the executive branch. They and their culture warrior allies, like Planned Parenthood, see the government’s substantial control of health care granted by the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and other such programs, as their vehicle to push through woke social change that they might not be able to achieve through democratic means.
That’s hardly democratic. Moreover — as with many other Biden policies — eviscerating medical conscience would not only be explosively contentious, but profoundly unwise:
- Compelling doctors to violate their faith beliefs will sow noxious seeds of national disunity that already dangerously divide the religious from the secular and the politically conservative from the liberal. At the very least, watching doctors punished for refusing to act against their own religious precepts will convince people of faith that their own government regards them as cultural enemies.
- The rule will further erode liberty and add to the creeping authoritarianism afflicting our society. If freedom of religion can be pushed aside by government fiat even though it’s expressly protected in the Bill of Rights, so can other fundamental freedoms.
- The rule will lead to years of bitter litigation that will test the viability of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — enacted in 1993 to protect against this exact kind of overreach by the federal government. And once again, the Supreme Court will be dragged into raw partisan politics to its substantial detriment.
- There could be a significant “brain drain” from the medical professions. If we force health care professionals to violate their moral beliefs, some older doctors and nurses will retire, taking their experience and knowledge with them. Talented young people who would make splendid doctors, nurses, or pharmacists may avoid the field altogether. In a time of strained medical resources, we would all be the losers in that.
- Forcing medical professionals to participate in legal but morally contentious procedures could be bad for patient outcomes. For example, it’s not a medical given that blocking puberty for children diagnosed with gender dysphoria serves these patients’ best interests, even though the Biden administration has adopted the ideology of the transgender movement as official government policy. Puberty blocking has been all but banned in Finland and is now strongly disfavored in the UK. Most recently, France’s National Academy of Medicine published an urgent warning (pdf) against routinely subjecting children diagnosed with gender dysphoria to mutilating surgeries and the impeding of normal maturation.
Nor would the coercion necessarily stop with abortion and transgender transitions. The areas of moral contention in medicine will only intensify in coming years. As just a few examples: Some bioethicists are lobbying for laws that would give dementia patients the right to sign advance directives instructing nursing homes to withhold sustenance once they reach a specified level of cognitive decline. If these acts become legal — and if there’s no right to say no because medical conscience has been obliterated — doctors and nurses who practice in this field could be forced to participate in the starving of their own patients.
Without medical conscience rights, if genetically engineering embryos becomes a normal part of reproductive medicine, doctors could be forced to participate in blatant acts of eugenics. Or, if assisted suicide becomes ubiquitous and considered a human right — which is the direction in which society is moving — doctors might be forced to kill legally qualified patients.
Don’t shake your head and roll your eyes. All doctors in Ontario, Canada, must either kill legally qualified patients who ask for euthanasia — or find a doctor for the patient who they know will give a lethal injection.
This much is sure. The stakes in the medical conscience controversy are very high. As the “Declaration in Support of Conscientious Objection in Health Care” puts it: “If health care workers are not to be reduced to mere functionaries (of the state, of the patient, of the legal system), they must be free to exercise their professional judgment and to allow their consciences to inform that judgment.”
Compelling doctors to violate their religious and moral beliefs in their work isn’t just authoritarian and immoral. It’s profoundly un-American.