Statements on Conscience Protection and the need to retain regulations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for healthcare workers and institutions.
Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans, L.A.
March 23, 2009
It is imperative that the rights of doctors, nurses and all medical professionals be protected and free from discrimination based upon their religious beliefs, morals and ethics.
Recently the Obama administration, through the federal Department of Health and Human Services, opened a public comment period about the possibility of rescinding current federal regulations protecting the conscience rights of health care providers. We must all remember that efforts to nullify or weaken any conscience protection will undermine our national heritage of respect for conscience and religious freedom, reduce patients' access to life-affirming health care, and even endanger the national consensus required to enact much-needed health care reform.
The comment period is currently underway and concludes April 9. I strongly encourage participation in this process by all committed to the sanctity of human life, the freedom of conscience, and the ethical integrity of our healing professions. You can go online to www.usccb.org/conscienceprotection to write to the Department of Health and Human Services and comment on the federal regulations.
Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, N.C. and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, N.C.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The right to life and the freedom to exercise one's religious and moral beliefs in the medical field without discrimination are being challenged in a new way and we are asking for your help in contacting federal government regulators about this issue.
First, a little background. In December 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved a regulation to protect the rights of doctors, nurses and other health care providers who object, on moral or religious grounds, to performing or assisting in abortions or other medical procedures in health care facilities that receive federal funding. Laws protecting the consciences of health care workers from discrimination in the workplace were first enacted in the early 1970s and this latest regulation added a layer of protection.
On March 10, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made a proposal to rescind the December 2008 regulation, putting at risk the legal protection that doctors and other medical personnel who object to performing or assisting in abortions or other medical procedures have enjoyed for decades.
But the March 10th proposal hasn't been finalized and here is where you can help. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is seeking input from the public on its proposal to rescind the regulation and will accept feedback through April 10. Please click on the link below and let our government know that you do not want to rescind the regulation that was enacted last December and that you want to protect the right of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who make the life affirming decision not to participate in abortions or other objectionable medical procedures based on their moral or religious beliefs.
You can learn more about this situation by visiting the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Joseph N. Latino of Jackson, M.S.
In last week’s Mississippi Catholic there was an article from Catholic News Service about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) accepting public comments on its move to rescind the regulation protecting medical providers’ conscience rights.
On Monday, March 16, Cardinal Francis George, speaking on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released the following statement:
“On Friday afternoon, February 27, the Obama Administration placed on a federal website the news that it intends to remove a conscience protection rule for the Department of Health and Human Services. That rule is one part of the range of legal protections for health care workers—for doctors, nurses and others—who have objections in conscience to being involved in abortion and other killing procedures that are against how they live their faith in God.
“As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we are deeply concerned that such an action on the government’s part would be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism. Respect for personal conscience and freedom of religion as such ensures our basic freedom from government oppression. No government should come between an individual person and God—that’s what America is supposed to be about. This is the true common ground for us as Americans. We therefore need legal protection for freedom of conscience and of religion—including freedom for religious health care institutions to be true to themselves.
“People understand what really happens in an abortion and in related procedures—a living member of the human family is killed—that’s what it’s all about—and no one should be forced by the government to act as though he or she were blind to this reality.”
With the recent repeal of the ban on public funding for embryonic stem cell research and the impending vote on the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), I urge all Catholics in the Diocese of Jackson to stand up for life and freedom. Send your concerns to HHS through mail or e-mail. The e-mail address is email@example.com. The mailing address is Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Ave., SW, room 716G, Washington, DC 20201. The deadline for submitting comments to HHS is April 9. So please do not delay.
The following words are a suggested guide by the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment: Please retain the conscience regulation, and enforce current laws protecting the right of health care providers to serve patients without violating their moral and religious convictions. The right of conscience protected by existing federal laws is inviolable. Weakening protection for this right will harm the ethical integrity of our healing professions, drive caring people out of these professions, and reduce patients' access to much-needed basic health care.
More information on this pro-life issue is available from the U.S. Bishops’ web site: /conscienceprotection/. A video of Cardinal George’s statement is also available at this site along with the comments of a Catholic health care professional in English and Spanish.
Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, V.A.
I urge all of our parishioners to make known their opposition to the proposal of the Obama administration to rescind the regulation in place whereby conscience rights in the health care profession are protected. Our doctors, nurses and other health care providers must retain the right to exercise their consciences and to decide for themselves whether they will take part in certain medical procedures.
Please take action immediately by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by mailing a letter to (HHS requires on original and two copies) Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Room 716G, Washington, D.C. 20201.
Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of Baltimore, M.D.
Several weeks ago, I wrote in this column about the calculated steps taken by President Barack Obama and his administration to dismantle laws aimed at protecting life. Following his immediate actions authorizing the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortions overseas and stem cell research here in the United States the President is now preparing to strip healthcare workers of their conscience-informed right to refuse to perform abortions.
In a very acute way, healthcare professionals must exercise their consciences regularly in matters of life and death. They are called to be guardians and servants of human life. This noble vocation invites moral, cultural, and legal pressures into its everyday practice. Freedom of conscience is essential to facing these pressures and responding to them “with an impassioned and unflinching affirmation of life,” as Pope John Paul II called for in The Gospel of Life.
The current administration, on track to live up to projections that it would be one of the most radically pro-abortion administrations in recent history, is seeking to rescind a federal regulation that ensures that our tax dollars do not fund programs in which healthcare professionals and institutions are penalized or otherwise subjected to discrimination because of their conscientious objection to abortion and other serious moral issues. This regulation implements and enforces three longstanding federal laws that protect rights of conscience. Its stated purpose is “to ensure that Department [of Health and Human Services] funds do not support morally coercive or discriminatory practices or policies in violation of federal law.” Prior to the promulgation of this regulation, there was (and will be if the Obama administration is successful) no systematic enforcement or education of the medical community of these laws, evidenced by attempts to attack conscience rights by advocacy groups, professional societies, and some state and local governments. Consequently, Catholic medical professionals were deprived of their ability, “to refuse to take part in committing an injustice,” as Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, which is not only their “moral duty…[but] also a basic human right.”
Catholic nurses, physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals have the right to practice both medicine and their faith. We applaud their generosity and their commitment to providing healthcare to our community that reflects the profound respect due to the human person and the dignity of each and every patient. We must ensure that they can continue in this mission guided by their consciences and that they are guaranteed an opportunity to refuse to take part in consultation, preparation, or execution of acts against life. Failing to guarantee this to healthcare professionals leaves them with two choices – act in violation of their consciences or abandon their honorable vocation to medicine. Neither is an acceptable choice in a democratic society that is committed to individual freedom and religious liberty.
Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, insists that “[n]o government should ever come between an individual person and God. That’s what America is supposed to be about.” Government action seeking to force citizens to choose between the practice of medicine and their faith verges on despotism; it attacks religious liberty and basic human rights.
The Obama administration, as required by law, has called for public comment until Thursday, April 9, on the proposed plan to remove this regulation and chip away at the legal protections currently afforded to healthcare professionals.
I join with Cardinal George in urging you to let the Department of Health and Human Services know that you stand for the protection of conscience, especially for those “guardians and servants of life” who provide the healthcare so necessary to a good society.
For more information and to voice your support for preserving this conscience-protection regulation, please see /conscienceprotection.
In addition, I invite all Catholic healthcare professionals to join me on May 9, 2009 at the First Annual Symposium for Catholic Medical Professionals, Conscience and Ethical Dilemmas in Catholic Healthcare. Visit archbalt.org for more information about this event or send an email to email@example.com.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Harrisburg, P.A.
DISTURBING ADVANCES FOR THE CULTURE OF DEATH
This past January, I and over 1,000 faithful from our diocese were part of an estimated 300,000 people in Washington, D.C. at the annual March for Life. The majority of participants in recent years have been young people. This always gives me renewed hope for the future as we work to build a culture of life in our nation. Each year, and especially this year, the secular media provided little, if any, coverage of this significant event. I cannot imagine the media ignoring other gatherings of this size in our nation’s capital.
The very day after the March for Life, President Obama, by executive order, reversed the Mexico City policy, first established in 1984, which prevented U.S. funding of organizations that perform and promote abortion as a family planning method in developing nations. According to polls, most Americans opposed this decision by the president. It is profoundly disturbing that our tax dollars are being used to fund organizations dedicated to performing and promoting abortions. It is shameful that our nation is exporting anti-life propaganda to people overseas whose values and cultures are often
profoundly respectful of the right to life.
On March 9th, again by executive order, President Obama lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. It is profoundly disturbing that our tax dollars will be used to destroy human embryos. The president described his order as “an important step in advancing the cause of science in America.” I agree with Cardinal Justin Rigali, the chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, in calling the executive order “a sad victory of politics over science and ethics.”
I have often been asked, by non-Catholics as well as by some Catholics, why the Catholic Church opposes stem cell research. I must always begin by explaining that the Church only opposes unethical stem cell research. We support research that does not destroy or harm human life in the process. We support research using adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood stem cells, now recognized by scientists as having great versatility and already effective against some serious illnesses. There are also recent scientific advances in the development of a genetic technique that produces stems cells without destroying (or using) any human embryos. It involves the transfer of genes into adult cells, triggering them to convert into pluripotent stem cells. This reprogramming of adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells was praised by the journal Science as the scientific breakthrough of the year. So why divert funds from these promising avenues of research to support research
that involves the destruction of human life at its earliest stages?
The Church cannot and will not support research that involves the deliberate destruction of human embryos. The obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo is gravely wrong since it invariably causes the death of the embryo. Pope Benedict XVI teaches: “Research in such cases, irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results, is not truly at the service of humanity. In fact, this research advances through the suppression of human lives that are equal in dignity to the lives of other human individuals and to the lives of the researchers themselves. History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity.” (From a talk given by Benedict XVI on Sept. 16, 2008, to the participants in the symposium on "Stem Cells: What Future for Therapy?" organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life. See http://www.zenit.org/article-17829?l=english
I am afraid that many people in our society today have forgotten or reject the principle that “the end does not justify the means.” A good intention (e.g. curing disease) does not make evil means (e.g. killing embryonic human life) good or just.
I realize that many good people struggle with this issue principally because of the existence of frozen embryos, embryos that were conceived in vitro and then frozen. There are indeed thousands of frozen embryos as a result of in vitro fertilization. It is important first of all to note that cryopreservation is itself “incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos” (cf. Dignitas Personae #18). We would not be faced with the moral dilemma about what to do with frozen embryos if they were not frozen to begin with and if in vitro fertilization had not taken place.
It is extremely important that we teach clearly and convincingly about the immorality of in vitro fertilization. Techniques that dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act are morally unacceptable (cf. Catechism # 2377). Also, the process of in vitro fertilization very frequently involves the deliberate destruction of embryos. It is deeply disturbing, yet often ignored, that the number of embryos sacrificed is about 80% in relation to those that are born in this process of artificial procreation. And then there is the process mentioned above of freezing embryos conceived in vitro, preserving
them for repeated pregnancies if initial attempts are unsuccessful. Many of these embryos do not even survive the process of freezing and thawing (cf. Dignitas Personae #14, note 27).
The ethical dilemma now facing us is what to do with the large number of frozen embryos already in existence. It is a grave injustice that these embryos have been produced, frozen and stored in the first place. How can this injustice be remedied? It is not remedied by treating the embryos as mere biological material and destroying them for research purposes. “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception” (cf. Catechism # 2270).
There have been other proposals made to try to resolve the ethical dilemma of what to do with frozen embryos. Each is morally problematic. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently stated in Dignitas Personae (#19): “All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice that in fact cannot be resolved. Therefore John Paul II made an ‘appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities, and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no
morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of frozen embryos that are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons’.”
It is indeed sad that the appeal of Pope John Paul II has mostly gone unheeded. It is particularly sad that in the United States our tax dollars are now being used in a way that treats human life at its very beginnings as a commodity, as mere biological material, for research. President Obama’s reversal of the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is not an advance for science. It is an advance for the culture of death in our country.
There was perhaps one ray of hope in President Obama’s statement of March 9th. The president stated: “we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.” I was glad the president made that statement. It is wrong to seek to have cloned children. But I wish he had just as forcefully recognized that it is wrong to clone human embryos because we want them for their body parts. This is euphemistically called “therapeutic cloning.” The president should have stated his unequivocal condemnation of this as well. (cf. Dignitas Personae #30).
We should all be gravely concerned that our new president may rescind existing federal protections for conscience rights in the health care profession. On February 27th, the Administration placed on a federal website the news that it intends to remove a conscience protection rule for the Department of Health and Human Services. We need these legal protections for health care workers. No doctor, nurse, or other health care worker should be coerced to be involved in abortion or other immoral acts. We must stand up for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on behalf of individuals and on behalf of our religious institutions. Cardinal Francis George, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
recently warned that a failure to protect conscience rights would move the country “from democracy to despotism.” I join Cardinal George in urging the faithful of our diocese to communicate to the Department of Health and Human Services in support of strong conscience protections for health care workers.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is
inviting public comment on this attempt to rescind important federal regulations protecting the conscience rights of health care providers, especially those at risk of being discriminated against because of their moral or religious objection to abortion. The Catholic community must speak out to protect Catholic doctors, nurses and hospitals. The deadline is April 9th for public comments. How? Go to this website: /conscienceprotection
- Be informed: listen to the videos, read the statements, check out the resources.
- Be involved: click on the link and send your message (courtesy of the NCHLA). The link is on the right hand side of the web page.
- Be an advocate: get others involved.
The recent orders of our president have been profoundly disappointing and may tempt us to lose hope for the building of a
culture of life in our nation. We must pray for our president and our elected representatives that no matter what good they do in other areas, they must protect innocent life. But the foundation of our hope is not in political leaders or policies. Easter reminds us of the foundation of our hope: the Risen Jesus. As the great John Paul II reminded us: “The Lamb who was slain is alive, bearing the marks of his Passion in the splendor of the Resurrection. He alone is master of all the events of history: he opens its ‘seals’ (cf. Rev 5: 1-10) and proclaims, in time and beyond, the power of life over death” (Evangelium Vitae # 105).
Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, F.L.
Last week, Cardinal George - the Archbishop of Chicago and the current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops - met with President Obama at the White House. While the meeting was “private” and, according to protocol, such meetings are described as “cordial”, there is no doubt that the Cardinal forthrightly discussed with the President the grave concerns that he and his brother bishops have expressed with the direction of Obama administration in the fifty plus days since the inauguration.
The day before his meeting with the President, Cardinal George issued a statement outlining the concerns of the U.S. Bishops. The message was delivered via video available on the Web at /conscienceprotection and on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NoCRwMqVzQ . The Cardinal reminds us that both religious liberty and the freedom of personal conscience are at the heart of our American experiment in democracy.
The concerns of Cardinal George are not out of place.
The President has reversed the Mexico City policy - which held that family planning programs that are part of US foreign aid could not promote or subsidize abortions.
He has remove the restrictions on government funding for embryonic stem cell research which involves the destruction of living human beings (embryos) in research that, to date, has not delivered any substantive medical advances despite its hype as opposed to the morally unproblematic research with adult stem cells which has.
Now, President Obama had also declared his intention to remove a conscience protection rule for the Department of Heath and Human Services. This rule is one part of the range of legal protections for health care workers - for doctors, nurses and others - who have objected to being involved in abortion and other procedures that violate their conscience or religious faith.
Were the Obama Administration to prevail in removing “conscience protection”, such an action on the government’s part “would be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism.”
As the Cardinal says, “Respect for personal conscience and freedom of religion as such ensures our basic freedom from government oppression. No government should come between an individual person and God-that’s what America is supposed to be about. This is the true common ground for us as Americans. We therefore need legal protection for freedom of conscience and of religion-including freedom for religious health care institutions to be true to themselves.”
Our nation has historically accommodated conscientious objection. Though as citizens we hold that it is a positive good to defend our nation, we do allow for those who conscientiously object to war not to fight. Shouldn’t our government and legal system permit conscientious objection to participating in something that we would hold to be a morally wrong action, i.e. the destruction of babies in their mothers’ womb.
It is bad enough when tax dollars are directed to areas that many taxpayers find morally objectionable. But this is an even greater challenge for once the government attempts to oblige a citizen to act against his or her conscience or religious belief we are no longer a free people.
As Cardinal George said: “We need to stand for the protection of conscience, especially now for those who provide the health care services so necessary for a good society.”