Nebraska legislator updates bill to protect doctors’ “rights of conscience”

LINCOLN. The revived legislative proposal will protect the “right of conscience” of health care providers by allowing doctors to refuse to provide a service if it is contrary to their beliefs.

Legislative Bill 810, proposed by State Senator Dave Moorman of Glenville, would pass the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act”, defining a “right of conscience” violation as a service to which a provider objects on the basis of moral, religious, or ethical beliefs.

On Friday, Moorman told the Committee on Health and Human Services that his legislation is focused on individual services, not patients. Therefore, if providers offer a service to one, they must offer it to others.

The bill will only apply to emergency medical care.

“This law recognizes that healthcare workers are moral agents,” Moorman said. “They are individual and personal human beings with a conscience who deserve protection.”

Witnesses said the legislation could apply to abortion, physician-assisted suicide, gene editing, sex-confirmed care, counseling for LGBTQ Nebrascans, and more.

Murman introduced a similar law in 2022 but did not withdraw from the committee.

Any practitioner “who has a conscience”

Dr. Dale Michels, a retired family physician and spokesman for the American Academy of Medical Ethics in Nebraska, said professionals need to be able to act on their deeply rooted beliefs to determine the right course of treatment, not just if the treatment is legal. .

“This is a good bill that any medical practitioner with a conscience will pass, which means it will protect every medical practitioner,” Michels said.

Michels said he used to prescribe IUDs to women, but eventually stopped doing so after doing more research. He said patients can usually find someone else to help no matter what.

Dr. Lloyd Pierre, one of the founders of the religious clinic in Omaha, said that the right of conscience in the field of medicine is as fundamental as the right to freedom of speech, religion and the press.

Pierre said he was “shocked” to learn that some medical schools no longer require doctors to take the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, and that science and the rights of conscience of some providers are no longer a priority, which he says has led to fewer medical students. field entrance.

He pointed to the torture of Jews during the Holocaust and the experimentation on black men with syphilis as an extreme case where doctors did not follow ethical standards.

“Depriving people of their right to freedom of conscience opens the door to the Holocaust,” Pierre told the committee.

Dr. David Hilger, a diagnostic radiologist, said that conscience is shaped by physicians’ values, medical knowledge and experience, and cannot be separated.

When situations in medical science are complex or unclear, clinicians respond differently, Hilger says, and conscience becomes “essential” in times of uncertainty.

“Obligation” to facilitate care

Dr. Leslie Spry, of the Nebraska Medical Association, said doctors have a “duty” to facilitate care, which includes arranging treatment.

The bill does not require physicians to refer patients to another provider, but does require “prompt” transfer of patient records.

Spry said the referral should be directed to a specific organization, such as a medical association or trusted physician.

“If I just turn down this patient and say, ‘I can’t do this,’ I don’t care about this patient,” Spry said.

Moorman said he will continue to work with the medical association on the referral amendment.

Dr. John Trapp, chief medical officer at Bryan Medical Center, who testified representing the Nebraska Hospital Association, said conscience rights are already being respected and that hospitals are undergoing the procedure.

“I ask that you take no action regarding LB 810, allowing hospitals and medical professionals to continue their great work, unencumbered by state laws like this one,” Trapp said.

Trapp said if the law is passed, “unnecessary government oversight” will create more problems than he hopes to solve.

“Line in the Sand”

The bill lacks a specific list of services that may fall under its definition, which Stephanie Nichols, legal counsel for the Freedom Defense Alliance, says is intentional.

Nichols said healthcare is changing rapidly, so any list could be out of date. She pointed to gene editing, which has increased in recent years but was not as common when the first conscience bill was passed in Illinois in 1977.

Mississippi passed legislation in 2004, and Arkansas, Ohio, and South Carolina have passed conscience bills in the past two years. Nichols said there are about a dozen bills pending across the country this year, including in Nebraska, Texas and Florida.

“Conscience laws work by drawing a line in the sand that conscience must be respected and that institutions, patients and physicians can work together towards that end,” Nichols said.

Dr. Edward DeSimone, a pharmacist, said the right of conscience should include the question of whether pharmacists are required to give medications such as abortion or opioids.

Dr. Elisabeth Heidt Kozisek, a clinical psychologist, says mental health providers also need to be protected or patients may receive worse care from providers who violate their beliefs.

“Dysfunctional” healthcare

Dr. Echo Koehler, of the Nebraska Nursing Association, said the bill could lead to “dysfunctional” health care and could “compromise” the quality of care.

“No patient should be prevented from receiving legal medical care solely because of the provider’s personal bias,” Koehler said.

She added that the legislation could also cause additional damage to marginalized communities such as LGBTQ people, low-income people or people from racial or ethnic minorities.

Nebraska ACLU’s Jane Seu, OutNebraska’s Abby Swatsworth, I Be Black Girl’s Naomi Thompson, Nebraska AIDS Project’s Lacey Bolt, and Nebraska Appleseed’s Sarah Maresh echoed Koehler’s comments.

“Let’s do everything we can to ensure that all Nebraskans, regardless of background or circumstance, have access to the best possible health care,” Seu said.

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