Medicine and religious freedom

July 31, 2008 at 8:39 am Leave a comment

The Bush Administration has proposed regulatory measures that will deny federal funding to health entities that do not accommodate employees who object to providing certain services to patients–mainly, family planning. This is enough to provoke a bit of hair tearing, but the proposal also seeks to define abortion as:

any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.

This is especially troubling to me, not just because of the broadness of this definition–which presumably would include such things as oral contraceptives–but because it applies to stem cells, which are harvested from fertilized eggs. Abortion most foul!

Federal intervention in this moral dilemma is constitutionally sketchy to me, though I may be completely off base in even bringing up the Constitution here. To me this falls in that tricky area between the clauses of Free Exercise–protection of religious expression–and Establishment–separation of Church and State. Should government protect those who feel pressured to abandon their religious beliefs for the sake of their employment and/or professional reputation? Or should government take a step back from the debate altogether, lest its employees become scholars of theology?

It should be pretty obvious which side of the fence I’m on. To me, going into the medical profession means giving up a fair degree of autonomy. You respect your patients’ wishes, even if they go against your professional and personal opinions.

I can understand why someone would feel so desperate about this–you go into medicine expecting to save lives and end up assisting in life’s termination–but there must be less financially hostile ways to address these concerns.


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