On doctors who deny treatment

Richard Sloan, writing an op-ed column in today’s LA Times, waxes trenchant over the California Supreme Court ruling earlier this week that it was discriminatory for a medical group to refuse a woman treatment for her inability to get pregnant. At issue wasn’t the artificial insemination procedure itself, but rather the fact that the woman in question is a lesbian. I had to read Sloan’s commentary twice to determine what was the “welcome, if unusual, turnabout in a disturbing trend that has characterized American medicine over the last three or so decades” even though I’d heard about the decision on the radio–is anyone else accustomed to hearing “disturbing American trend” in a completely different context?

At any rate, Sloan reminds readers that “Freedom of religion is a cherished value in American society. So is the right to be free of religious domination by others,” and it turns out the disturbing trend is this one:

Recent studies have shown that 14% of U.S. doctors, when confronted by possibly objectionable but legal medical treatments, not only would refuse to deliver such care but also would refuse to inform their patients about it or refer them to physicians who would deliver the care. That translates to about 40 million people who would receive substandard care from these physicians, who believe that their religious convictions are more important than the well-being of their patients.

The tradition of religious freedom in the United States is one of the founding ideals of this country. But as our framers envisioned it, religious freedom referred to a right to practice one’s own religion free of interference from others. It did not refer to religiously based interference with the rights of others, who may have their own and different religious traditions. Even in the relatively religiously homogeneous era of the framers, such interference was not acceptable. It is even less so in 21st century America. With religious heterogeneity growing, the devotional demands of one group may be increasingly at odds with those of others.

And of course you don’t need to be in a different religion or even a different denomination to see that kind of heterogeneity in action.

Story is here.

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