(Washington, D.C. – Jan. 19, 2018) Compassion & Choices today warned that the new “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights threatens patients’ legal rights to access all end-of life care options.
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.”
“This new bureaucracy threatens to undermine the legal requirements under federal and state laws of healthcare providers to ensure their patients have access to all of their end-of-life options,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices, the nation’s leading end-of-life care advocacy organization. “Healthcare providers have every right to opt out of providing healthcare services they object to for reasons of conscience or religious freedom. But they still have legal and moral obligation to fully inform their patients of all end-of-life options or refer them to another healthcare professional who will do so.”
“We cannot allow physicians’ conscience and religious beliefs to trump their patients’ conscience and religious beliefs,” said Dr. David Grube, Compassion & Choices National Medical Director, a family physician in Oregon who wrote prescriptions for medical aid in dying for about 15 patients between 1997 and his retirement in 2012. “This new federal bureaucracy seeks to threaten just that.”
Last April, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by religious groups seeking to undermine Vermont’s law authorizing medical aid in dying as end-of-life care option to peacefully end unbearable suffering for mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live.
The plaintiffs alleged Vermont’s Patient’s Bill of Rights for Palliative Care and Pain Management violated their religious rights by requiring doctors to discuss all end-of-life care options with their patients. After U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford granted Compassion & Choices intervenor status in the case, he ruled: “…physicians must inform patients about all choices and options relevant to their medical treatment.” [See opinion here].