Critics have voiced fears in recent days over the Trump administration’s creation of the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, a new agency under the Department of Health and Human Services aimed at protecting doctors and medical professionals who decline to take part in medical procedures that they feel violate their religious conscience.
But while there is worry and consternation in some circles, Dr. David Stevens, CEO of Christian Medical & Dental Associations, an organization that represents more than 19,000 Christian healthcare professionals and students, believes that many of these reactions are overstated.
Sterns told Faithwire that the new agency is solely centered on protecting existing laws that allow doctors and medical professionals to live out their values in their work life.
“Healthcare right of conscience is not about refusing to treat because you don’t like or approve of the patient, the beliefs or attitude,” he said. “We don’t discriminate based on behavior.”
Those skeptical of the new agency believe that it could lead to a scenario in which the government allows discrimination against gays and transgender individuals, among others, with some worrying that doctors will be able to opt out of treating these patients or will even be permitted to deny offering care to children of same-sex couples.
“We are delighted that HHS has formed the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. It is long overdue. There are…
Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the agency’s priorities could become an issue of concern, seeing as defending religious liberty is its prime motivator.
“We may not know exactly what this new division will look like in practice, but we do know that this means they prioritize religious liberty over women, transgender people and others,” Melling told Reuters.
The outlet noted that there are already laws on the book in states and at the federal level alike, that offer protection to doctors, and said that HHS simply seeks to strengthen and enforce these laws through the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom.
Stevens told Faithwire that his organization is favorable of the Trump administration’s move, as he and many of the doctors whom he represents believe that it is essential for people to be protected from being forced or required to take part in treatments or surgical measures that they object to on religious or ethical grounds.
But he drew a distinction between procedures and treatments such as abortion, birth control and gender reassignment surgery and between the status or beliefs of individuals, noting that he has always cared for people without regard for their beliefs or status.
In the end, Stevens said it’s all about the procedure in question, and noted, for instance, that he would never participate in an abortion.
“I would be morally complicit in that,” he said. “You are morally complicit when you facilitate something that is evil. … There’s physician autonomy; you don’t have to do everything that’s available in health care.”
If a woman came to Stevens and asked for an abortion, he said he would explain what happens during the procedure and would express his concern, while offering up some other relevant information.
“I would not refer her,” he said, adding that he would, of course, welcome her back to his practice if she did decide to go through with an abortion elsewhere. “I would tell her if there was an abortionist in town with bad outcomes not to go.”
With that in mind, the issues on the table that doctors might want to opt out of extend well beyond abortion, contraception and gender reassignment, as Stevens said human cloning, doctor-assisted suicide, in-vitro fertilization with sex selection and other such procedures might also spark moral qualms from the doctors being asked to participate or provide them.
The Christian Medical & Dental Associations have been pushing for conscience protections at the legislative level and continue to, though Stevens said that the Trump’s administration’s actions in creating the new agency are a step in the right direction.
“Health and Human Services is putting this in place,” Stevens said, warning that the next administration could simply come in and wipe the agency out. “That’s just another administration away from having this [be axed].”
The doctor repeatedly reiterated that there is a desperate need for protections, citing a number of recent events surrounding members of his organization. One such incident involved the head of a psychiatry department at a medical school who was demoted after comments he made during a panel discussion on transgender issues.
As for the claim from some critics that the agency could spark increased discrimination, Stevens said that his organization and its members wouldn’t support turning away a gay couple’s children, nor would they refuse to offer general treatment to a transgender individual. Some members, in fact, have such individuals in their practices.
“I can speak for our 19,000 members and over 30,000 healthcare professionals we work with,” he said. “[Critics are] holding up a straw man.”
If a member did reject people based solely on their status and not on specific medical interventions, Stevens said his organization would “encourage them not to do that and tell them why.”
“We don’t discriminate based on behavior,” he reiterated.