Group Warns New Health “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” Sets Dangerous Precedent for Patients

Submits Comments to Federal Register About Proposed Rule on Comments Deadline
March 27, 2018

The recently created “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights sets a dangerous precedent for patient access to vital healthcare services, according to a leading advocacy organization. Compassion & Choices submitted the comments to the Federal Register today, the last day of the March 27 deadline to comment on the proposed rule.

The HHS “conscience protections” are designed to help healthcare providers “file a complaint under the Federal Health Care Provider Conscience Protection Statutes if you believe you have experienced discrimination because you … Refused to provide health care items or services for the purpose of causing, or assisting in causing, the death of an individual.”

“The prospective rule does not solve a pervasive problem in American healthcare…healthcare workers are already protected from participating in medical procedures that they oppose,” said Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion & Choices. “Instead, this rule will significantly and unjustly harm American healthcare consumers by allowing medical providers to withhold vital information from patients about their treatment options and deliberately disregard patient instructions about their end-of-life care preferences.”

While only 34 complaints alleging violations of conscience were filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) from November 2016 to January 2018, during roughly that same time period the Office of Civil Rights received over 30,000 complaints alleging either civil rights or violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The HIPPA law required the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop regulations protecting the privacy and security of certain health information. Despite the relative paucity of conscience-based complaints to the OCR, an enormous expenditure of taxpayer dollars – as much as $5.7 million out of a $38.7 budget – is being diverted to the office under the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

“Simply put, the Department’s…proposed rule fails to protect the interests of patients, and instead caters to a vocal minority of medical practitioners,” said Jonathan Patterson, staff attorney for Compassion & Choices. “Putting the religious objections of physicians and healthcare providers above their duty to ensure patients receive all relevant information about treatment options compromises patient autonomy, and seriously damages the patient-physician relationship. We implore the Department to reject the proposed rule in favor of a rule that truly empowers ALL participants in our healthcare system.”

Read Compassion & Choices full comments submitted to the Federal Register.

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