Sabtu, 04 Agustus 2007

Can a Physician Refuse to Treat a Patient?

Yesterday I wrote about two Washington pharmacists who are suing for the right to refuse to sell the morning-after pill because of their religious and moral beliefs. What rights do physicians have when it comes to offering certain services or choosing to treat certain patients?

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 46 states specifically allow doctors to refuse to provide abortion services if they wish. Sixteen states allow doctors to refuse to provide sterilization services, and at least 8 states allow doctors to refuse to provide contraception. These policies have stood up to challenge as long as the doctor does not offer the service to any of his/her patients.

Well, okay, doctors certainly should have rights, too. The problem arises when a doctor provides the service to some patients but then refuses it to others. Patients’ advocates say that such doctors are hiding behind religion while violating anti-discrimination laws. For example, if a physician prescribes Viagra for a straight guy, should he/she be allowed to refuse it to a gay patient? What about a doctor who refuses artificial insemination to lesbian couples and single women, but offers it to married couples?

The California Supreme Court is about to hear a case in which a lesbian woman is suing two doctors for refusing to provide artificial insemination to her on religious grounds. The case is generating a lot of interest, with over 40 groups asking to be heard. Doctors’ attorneys are likely to argue that if physicians are forced to violate their religious or moral beliefs they may be driven out of certain specialties. But is it right that they should be able to force their beliefs on others instead?

What do you think? Whose rights should take precedence here?

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