By Deirdre A. McQuade
March 27, 2009
Doctors practice medicine to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness for their patients. They pledge to "do no harm." Yet many face tremendous pressure to participate in abortion and sterilization.
Informed Catholic health professionals understand that such procedures are not authentic medicine. They are not therapeutic, as they treat no disease or pathological condition. An unborn child is not a disease to be "cured" through abortion; and sterilization stops a healthy reproductive system from functioning properly.
Medical personnel, like all citizens, have the right not to be forced to participate in practices that offend their deeply held moral and religious convictions. This is a fundamental human right long recognized in our democracy.
But the right of conscience is under serious attack. Pro-abortion groups are pushing hard to undermine conscience rights in health care so nothing will stand in the way of maximum access to abortion. They call abortion a "free choice" -- but what is more coercive than forcing people to perform or refer for an act they find morally abhorrent? Such coercion strikes at the heart of medicine's healing mission.
Existing federal laws forbid government bodies and federally-funded hospitals, medical schools and research programs to discriminate against health care providers for exercising their conscience rights on abortion and sterilization. Unfortunately, these protective laws are widely unknown and unevenly enforced. Those who experience discrimination often do not know where to turn. To protect medical personnel, health care institutions must be held accountable to existing law.
The Obama Administration has issued a proposal to weaken current legal protection of conscience in health care, rescinding a recent Bush Administration regulation that helps implement the protective laws. The public has until Thursday, April 9 to write to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging it to retain the regulation.
Our voice is needed right now! But what can we do? Go to www.usccb.org/conscienceprotection to get informed, take action, and spread the word.
First, go to www.usccb.org/conscienceprotection to learn more. Watch new videos by Cardinal Francis George, a registered nurse, a doctor, and med students explaining the need for conscience protection – including one in Spanish. Read the helpful Q&A "Defending the Conscience Rights Regulation." See the action alert posted by the USCCB's partner organization, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (NCHLA).
Second, take action. Click on the "Act NOW!" button on the conscience protection web page to send an e-mail message to HHS by Thursday, April 9. The NCHLA Action Center provides a preset message, to which the sender may add personal comments.
Finally, encourage others to get involved. Forward this column to your e-mail network or re-print it in a newsletter. Post links to www.usccb.org/conscienceprotection and the YouTube videos on Facebook, or embed our free web banner ads on other digital outlets like personal blogs. Or use the bulletin announcement in your parish the coming two weekends: March 28-29 and April 4-5.
Doctors and nurses have long cared for us. Now it's our time to help them. Thank you in advance for spreading the word!
Deirdre A. McQuade is Assistant Director for Policy & Communications at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.