Across the United States, patients seeking medical information and treatment are encountering health care restrictions based on institutional religious doctrine or an individual health clinician's personal moral beliefs.
These restrictions undermine patients’ rights and access to care at hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and doctors’ offices. Some health insurance plans are also religiously-affiliated and refuse to pay for medical treatment or counseling to which they object.
Reproductive health care is the type of medical care most frequently affected by religiously-based health restrictions. Examples of services that may be banned include birth control, sterilization, abortion and infertility services. Some religiously-affiliated hospitals also refuse to allow counseling of patients about the use of condoms to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. End-of-life care decision-making can be affected, if what the patient or his/her family wants (such as to refuse or remove a feeding tube) is not permitted by religious doctrine. In the future, treatments derived from embryonic stem cell research could also be banned at certain religiously-affiliated hospitals.
Health providers and insurers are demanding, and in some cases receiving, special legislated “refusal rights” that allow them to refuse to provide or pay for health care services to which they have religious or moral objections. In the rush to grant these special rights, public policymakers have ignored the rights of patients. Health care restrictions are threatening patients’ rights to complete medical information and informed consent, and reducing consumer access to a full range of health care services and choices.