Imagine being refused medical care simply due to your gender or sexual orientation, or being refused care simply because it goes against a medical professional’s ethical, religious or personal beliefs. Due to a new effort by the Trump administration these scenarios may become a new reality for many people across the country.
This past Thursday, the president’s team announced that there would be a new sector within the Department of Health and Human Services titled the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom. This group’s objective is to protect medical professionals for precisely the reasons listed above. Naturally, this move has been met with criticism by many Americans saying that it is discriminatory and unethical to even consider withholding medical care for personal reasons. However, others are saying that these will actually be anti-discrimination and that defending these caregivers will actually help to promote diversity in the medical field.
This action by the Trump administration is attempting to challenge a provision set by the Obama administration. Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is the specific law being challenged, states, “the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability”. By challenging this, Trump is hoping to allow medical professionals, including doctors, physician’s assistants, nurses and others, to be free from this obligation to treat patients, on the basis of their personal beliefs.
This is not the first time that this law has been challenged. In 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued an injunction in the Franciscan Alliance, Inc. et al v. Burwell case that prohibited the enforcement of certain provisions in Section 1557, specifically those that deal with sexual identity and abortion. During the time that the injunction remains in place, these two subject matters will essentially continue to not be covered by the Affordable Care Act.
Trump’s decision to challenge this law and allow professional caregivers to refuse service for certain acts on the basis of personal or religious reasons goes against what the medical profession and this country are based on. People who join the medical field almost always do so because they have the overwhelming desire to help people. While there can of course be other reasons that individuals choose to go into this field, the urge to improve humanity and assist others is a large part of any career in the medical profession. In addition to actually wanting to help people, physicians also take the Hippocratic Oath, binding themselves to the duty of helping all others, a point that is made multiple times throughout the modern text. If physicians and other members of the medical field begin selectively choosing who they help, they will essentially be breaking this oath by selectively treating the patients who fit their ideals, rather than helping all those in need.
This act of turning people away will not only be unethical for those who do so, but it will also be difficult for those that are rejected. Not only is it upsetting to be rejected on the basis of who you are in the first place, it may also be impossible for some to find alternate doctors to take care of them instead. Depending on a person’s situation, they may not have the means necessary to visit other physicians and get the help they need. Whether this is due to healthcare, their location, or just the inability to take time away from work to see other specialists, it is unfair that people should fear they will not be able to find care due to someone’s personal prejudices.
However, there are some proponents to Trump’s plan to remove this act. Roger Severino, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, claimed that this change will actually be a tool against discrimination.
“These laws are anti-discrimination laws. They ban discrimination against persons who exercise their conscience in the health care field,” Severino said. “It actually enhances diversity to have people from all walks of life with different views on controversial questions able to practice medicine.”
While Severino’s argument may sound well crafted, his argument is severely flawed. There is nothing discriminating against medical professionals from having opinions in the first place. Physicians are free to go around thinking that people should not get abortions or to disagree with someone’s sexual or gender identity. However, just because we think these things does not mean we have to act on them by totally withholding care. If you, as a medical professional, have an obligation to help all people, it is without a doubt your responsibility to give care whether or not their personal lives align with what you deem ethical or appropriate.
The idea that someone could be refused medical assistance simply due to their personal life and choices is bigoted and prejudiced, and has no place in our country. While we try to move forward and create a more open and welcoming country, it will be impossible to do so with hate-filled laws such as this hanging over our heads. No matter how we express ourselves, who we love or the choices we make, we are all still human at the end of the day, and we all deserve the same assurance we will be given the care we need when we require it.
Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.