The Threat to Patients’ Rights
Medical care that is restricted by conservative religious doctrine or an individual clinician's personal moral beliefs can threaten patients' rights to informed consent and interfere with their ability to obtain a full range of health care services.
For example, physicians and other health care providers at some religiously-restricted hospitals are unable to fulfill their duty to their patients by explaining and offering a full range of treatment options. Contraception, sterilizations, abortions, "safer sex" counseling to prevent HIV/STI infections, infertility services and end-of-life choices are among the medical services that are most frequently affected by religiously-based health care restrictions.
Theresa Younger on how religious restrictions on health care can affect low-income communities.
Working to Protect Patients’ Rights
The MergerWatch Project is working to protect patients’ rights to make treatment decisions based on complete, accurate medical advice and the patient’s own religious or ethical beliefs, without interference from institutional religious doctrine or individual providers’ moral beliefs.
We seek to harness the collective power of a broad-based coalition of consumer groups, health care providers and public policymakers to advocate for the following protections:
- Protecting patients’ rights to informed consent, made with knowledge of all potential treatment options (including those prohibited by a health provider due to religious policies).
- Requiring advance disclosure to patients of any religiously-based policies that restrict patients’ access to medical information or services at hospitals, health systems and clinics, or in the coverage offered by health insurers.
- Requiring provision of needed services in cases of emergency or when no alternative provider exists, even if the service conflicts with institutional religious doctrine.
- Requiring timely referrals to alternate providers for non-emergency care when institutional religious policies forbid the provision of needed services.
- Requiring that hospitals and nursing homes honor patients’ health care proxies and advance directives or disclose in advance any restrictions on honoring the patient’s wishes. When a patient’s wishes conflict with hospital policy, the hospital or nursing home should be prepared to arrange a transfer to an alternative facility that is located within a reasonable geographic distance and will accept the patient’s health insurance coverage.