Monday, November 12, 2007
When doctors play judge
When I go to a doctor, I expect him or her to treat me, whether I have a sore throat, a stomach-ache or something more serious. So when I found out that doctors around the country are refusing to treat patients because the patients' needs conflict with their religious beliefs, I just had to look into it further.

Turns out, it's all legal. Doctors can turn down patients and they are doing exactly that. In Pennsylvania, a woman who had been raped was denied the morning-after pill, which would prevent her from getting pregnant. In the Midwest, a woman was denied the same treatment after she had unprotected sex with a boy she was dating. And in Texas, we met a woman who told us her doctor refused to give her birth control pills because he was a Catholic and it threw his moral compass off course. "He told me he didn't believe in prescribing birth control, he thought it was morally wrong that I shouldn't be having sex and he launched into a lecture about ethically how I need to rethink things," said the woman, who asked not to be identified.

We spoke with one Catholic doctor in Manassas, Virginia, who says he's rejected at least a dozen patients who asked for birth control pills. Dr. Scott Ross told us, "I think we as physicians have the right to uphold our own moral grounds and we don't have to do everything that's asked of us."

The American Medical Association agrees. "Any physician has the opportunity that if because of personal beliefs religious or moral beliefs that they can refuse to provide services, but we also believe that that physician has an obligation to provide an avenue where the patient can get the care that they're seeking," said Dr. Edward Langston at the A.M.A. We found that eight states have laws giving doctors the legal right to reject treatment.

Tell us what you think. Should doctors be able to deny patients care because it conflicts with their own religious beliefs? Is there room for both religion and medicine in the exam room? How do you think this might affect the quality of care patients receive?

And be sure to tune in soon to watch our story. We'll share some of your thoughts on the air.

-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 9:33 AM ET
  37 Comments
Doctor's have always had a right to turn a patient away. But I wonder...the ones that say they won't do this or that, because of religious beliefs...do they still charge these people? Isn't that morally wrong? Charging someone money for not treating them?
After all there are plenty of people willing to lecture people about morals for free.
Posted By M. Hodges, Denton TX : 11:12 AM ET
I know there are many on both sides of the abortion debate, but a pro-life doctor should have the right to refuse to perform an abortion, which in his eyes is murder.

Conscientious objectors during wartime are allowed to serve in ways that do not conflict with their morals. Doctors should be given this same right.
Posted By Katie Hart, Midland, PA : 11:16 AM ET
Imagine the outrage if a fundamentalist Christian or orthodox Jewish doctor refused to deliver a baby that was to be borne out of wedlock. Could the doctor get away with it?
Posted By aj, huntington, ny. : 11:26 AM ET
What if your decision causes someone to die? Giving a woman a "morning-after pill" will cause someone to die. No pharmacist or dr. should be FORCED to do something they believe would end life. It's about morals.
Posted By john - st. louis, mo. : 11:42 AM ET
If the medical profession allows this to occur then someday THAT DOCTOR may find himself or herself in an emergency room with a physician saying " I'm not going to treat you because you don't believe in what I believe in..."
Posted By Trent W, Dunwoody ,Ga. : 12:00 PM ET
If a physician's conscience interferes with their ability to practice, that physician should find a new job. Lawyers represent murderers all the time and are mature enough to realize that the murderer has a right to representation. They put their feelings aside.
Posted By jim d, baltimore, md. : 12:09 PM ET
Doesn't the Hippocratic Oath put patients' lives, and the quality thereof, first and foremost? Do I dare say that these same doctors, who took the Hippocratic Oath, are hypocritical?

Thanks,
Lilibeth
Edmonds, Washington
Posted By Lilibeth, Edmonds, Washington : 12:09 PM ET
My take on it is that the doctor does not have to perform elective procedures against his or her judgment. There are some Hollywood-type doctors in deep mud now for prescribing to patients who are abusing drugs. (Anna Nicole?) They prescribed because the patient "wanted" the drug.
Posted By Maureen L, West Chicago , IL : 12:14 PM ET
I think states SHOULD give doctors the right to refuse treatment. It's far-fetched, but what if someone said they were just tired of living and wanted an assisted suicide?
Posted By ron w. , dallas, tx. : 12:22 PM ET
Randi:

Unfortunately, I learned this lesson at a young age of 23.

My father was dying in the hospital of cancer. I was young and immature and just thought everyone lived forever and ever.

I had a respiratory doctor refuse to give treatments to my father because his death was any day.

I will so remember Dr. Raj for what he taught me about life and treatments. He told me things no one would tell me. Dr. Raj was honest. He was the first Muslim I ever met and he was refusing to give my father treatments. We talked about God and about life. We talked about his beliefs and my own.

His opinions were very different from mine. He said, "Renee, God doesn't want us to debate about right and wrong when death is imminent. He wants us to submit, rejoice and be glad." Two days later my father died.

This story is so clear to me because I re-read it my journal over the weekend as I reflected on what would have been my father's 77th birthday.

Sometimes the refusal of a treatment is a blessing in disguise. I understand Dr. Raj so clearly now and I thank him for his advice and cousel during one of the most difficult periods in my life.
Posted By Renee Bradenton, FL : 12:38 PM ET
Human rights are paramount, and teh doctors in this case have every right to deny treatment if it contradicts with their right to religion.

Doctors are not public servants (like District Attorneys), and do not have to defend what they think is immoral.

We can't have our cake and force someone else to eat it too.
Posted By Chris LaBossiere : 12:55 PM ET
As a nurse, I was taught we are not to bring our belief systems to the bedside. It is not my beliefs that matter in the care of someone else. It is THEIR beliefs that matter. All I can offer is information to enable enlightened choices. These ethics apply to Doctors as well. How dare Doctors presume to impose their personal moral compass on others. If they don't want to provide the requested service, they need to find someone who will....immediately.
Posted By JR : 1:12 PM ET
I think it is crazy for doctors to be able to pick and choose whom ever they want to treat. It can really lead to favoritism where one class of people gets better care.

But I guess if they are in private practices then that is their prerogative. But if they work in hospitals then they should not be allowed to show any difference from one patient to the next no matter what race, religion, or whatever.


Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Cindy : 1:16 PM ET
I believe it is a doctor's responsibility to let a patient know if he/she has a moral objection to something a patient is asking for. A patient has the right to treatment and if a doctor is going to refuse based upon religious conviction, then the doctor has a moral responsibility to let the patient know so the patient can find someone who will provide them with what they need.
Posted By Pamina, New Rochelle, NY : 1:24 PM ET
This is the plight of women today. Being denied birth control because of someone else's beliefs. How sick is that? What's next? Will I be refused at the grocery store or pharmacy because I want to buy a chocolate bar, but someone will tell me that they think I'm too fat? Enough is enough! If you don't put your patients before your beliefs, you shouldn't be a doctor.
Posted By Sylvike : 1:28 PM ET
I think it is harmful and unprofessional to deny treatment to anyone based on a physician's religious beliefs. People that feel that they have a right to pass judgment by denying medical treatment have no business in the medical field.

Patients should not have the added stress of worrying about whether or not they will be treated based on the doctor's moral beliefs. If that is the case, physicians should be forced to disclose their religious beliefs to every patient that comes into his or her office.

What happens in an emergency room situation? If a patient comes in that is HIV positive, will those physicians be able to deny treatment because they may jump to the conclusion that the patient is a homosexual and homosexuality is against their beliefs?

I would not trust any physician who would pick and choose what treatment they would administer based on religious or moral beliefs. There is no doubt about it; the quality of care patients receive will suffer wherever this attitude is condoned.

Jo Ann
Posted By Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 1:49 PM ET
Gosh, people, can't you find anything important and relevant to talk about with all that's going on in the world??

Doctors take an oath to save lives whenever possible. Prescribing birth control pills has absolutely nothing to do with that. To religious folks, this means ENDING a possible life.

According to the AMA, doctors have an OBLIGATION to provide patients with an alternate means of obtaining the requested treatment. As long as patients can obtain treatment elsewhere, I don't see why this is an issue to be discussed on an international NEWS channel.

Get a grip, people, and report on something that actually matters!!!
Posted By Monika, Eagar, Arizona : 2:10 PM ET
I would personally never go to a doctor who would deny me treatment because of his religious beliefs. I'm going to a doctor for treament not to be judged because of my lifestyle. It's bad enough that people are denied treatment if they do not have insurance....now we have to worry about what religion some doctors practice?
Posted By Amber, Ft. Wayne IN : 2:37 PM ET
I can see both sides; the doctor has the "right to refuse", but the pill in question is legal. This is why we pay so much to Supreme Court judges.
Posted By Judi, Bloomfield Hills, MI : 3:13 PM ET
No matter which "side" you're on , wouldn't you rather see people given a choice -- both the patient and the pharmacist? If I were into religious reading, could I demand that an "adult" bookstore also provide me with religious material?
Posted By Jeanette, Alexandria, Va. : 3:34 PM ET
When religion over steps it's boundaries, there are always problems.

Religion should never play a part in a patient receiving quality care. A doctor is supposed to heal the physical ailments of his patients. Healing of the soul is the responsibility of the individual and his belief system.
Posted By Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 3:38 PM ET
Different doctors treat different things. There are specialists in medicine, so not every doctor will treat every condition. I don't see a problem that this person has to go to another source for the morning - after pill.
Posted By Lauren T, Nashville, Tn. : 3:38 PM ET
Randi -

My religious beliefs prevent me from accepting certain treatments that doctors and many others believe to be perfectly acceptable and moral. Yet I would expect my doctor to respect my religious belief and not try to push his or her treatment and/or personal beliefs upon me.

So along that same regard, I would respect a doctor's belief that was different from mine. Yet, it would also be within my right to choose another family doctor.
Posted By Joan, Lansing, MI : 5:13 PM ET
Doctors as human beings have a right to think whatever they want and act accordingly in their own lives. However, they have absolutely no right to impose their beliefs on other people. And that is exactly what they are doing by denying patients the care they need. Now, defining 'care' can be problematic as well because perhaps a doctor doesn't consider birth control a form of care. But again, as licensed physicians, these people take an oath to provide necessary care to all patients. If we get lost in technicalities of what is necessary and what's not, others suffer (a good example is the rape victim who was denied the morning after pill--essentially she's being punished for a crime someone else committed). I realize that there are blurry boundaries and each person has decisions to make in terms of what they support and what they don't. But at the end of the day, a doctor has to do his/her job first and that does not include imposing one's own religious/ethical views on others no matter how strongly one feels about them.
Posted By Mehroz B. from Petaluma, CA : 6:16 PM ET
I do want a physician who believes there is something bigger than him at work in our world. I know when I almost died in a car accident at seventeen my doctors were very quick to point out that my recovery had very little to do with them and everything to do with a miracle. I am grateful that those men and women prayed for help to save me and that prayer was answered. Consequently, I could never see myself going to someone who didn't have a spiritual basis to his or her practice and personal life. The key is to communicate in writing (a living will, for instance) with your medical guardian and doctor what your wishes are so that there is no question and conflict of interest when the really big traumas occur. My Dad, stepmom, MD, and lawyer all have a copy of my living will so there is no argument. They know what I believe in and want if I am unable to communicate. MD's and mental health professionals are human beings, not demigods, and should have the option to treat who and what they are comfortable treating. It's part of the do no harm clause. Otherwise, patients are taking their lives literally into their own hands by allowing conflicted healthcare professionals to care for them who may not subconsciously have their best interests at heart. I personally wouldn't want someone taking care of me who wasn't 110% on my side anyway.
Posted By Tammy C., Berwick, LA : 6:29 PM ET
Doctors certainly have a right to their religious beliefs, but I think they should practice in private. I don't think that they should treat woman, if they are not concerned with their issues. I wonder if these doctors have any problem prescribing Viagra to their golfing buddies? Thanks for looking into this!
Posted By Kathy Chicago,Il : 7:34 PM ET
Doctors are not the only ones that do this. Years ago in Tennessee the Catholic hospital in Knoxville would not only not do abortions but they would not tie a womans' tubes as well because it was a form of birth control and the church does not support that.

If you go to the doctor for a specific reason and that doctor will not do it because of his/her beliefs the doctor should refer you to another doctor and not charge you - after all we shouldn't have to pay 2 doctors because one of them had beliefs he would not compromise. I don't fault the doctor for practicing the beliefs he/she holds, but medical costs are just too high for someone to pay twice because of it.

Annie Kate
Birmingham AL
Posted By Annie Kate : 8:56 PM ET
Just like there are lawyers with no morals who will take any lawsuit, there are doctors who will prescribe any care that is legal and some even if it is not legal. If you want birth control pills, you can get them from 99.9% of doctors, and the morning after pill from 99% of doctors. Sounds like a big deal is being made out of a few people standing up for what they believe in. In this country where people are not raised to have conviction about anything anymore, I guess standing up for what you believe in is a bad thing.
Posted By Nestor, Austin, TX : 9:10 PM ET
Like many things in life, there is no answer to please everyone. I'd hate to think that a person could be refused a life sparing treatment just because the doctor takes a "high" moral ground. But I'd also hate to think that a person could demand an unnecessary treatment just because they "want" it. The medical profession is based in science and that should be the underlying factor to determine treatment.
If a person wants a lecture on morality, direct them to the nearest place of worship.
Posted By D. Lewis -NY : 10:11 PM ET
I had this happen to me. I had a doctor tell me he wouldn't do my tube-tying (end my child bearing ability after 3 children) because it was against his religion. However...he was kind enough to understand that I could not afford, nor did I want anymore children. SO he asked another doctor to do it. IF a doctor is morally against something I believe it is also a moral and professional obligation to recommend someone who will. He didn't tell me I couldn't have the procedure..he simply said..he wouldn't do it. Nothing wrong with that. It would have been wrong if he had chosen to say "So you can't have it done". That wouldn't have worked with me at all, and he wasn't unprofessional enough to try something that stupid. I am greatful for that. For the ones that won't prescribe birth control...well, then tell the patient where they can go to get birth control. I put this to those doctors. If that had been a man coming to you saying "I need condoms...or I need this or that" that had to do with birth control..if these "moral compass aligned doctors" would have provided them. I bet, since it wasn't a drug that they would have gladly handed them over. And to think we want to lower the rate of unwanted pregnancy in this country...these doctors ought to have to work in an orphanage or two...or perhaps take care of some of these unwanted babies that they helped create due to their "well aligned moral compass".
Posted By Heidi : 10:13 PM ET
Boston, MA
while i respect a physicians right to their beliefs, i also expect them to respect my right to disagree and to get decent, full medical care. if a doctor won't provide me with this, they should be legally obligated to refer me to someone who will.
Posted By Carly : 10:40 PM ET
I am a physician in Illinois. Clearly in emergent situations a patients life should come before anyones beliefs. In the situation originally discussed (not life threatening, seemingly an outpatient situation), other doctors that would favor the opinions of the patient could be consulted. Second or third opinions. There are many doctors out there with many different beliefs and any one of them is available for consult.
To think that I have foregone my rights to act on my beliefs because I have become a doctor is narrow minded and beyond reality. Why should my beliefs not count? As long as I practice within the standards of care and try to cause no harm, I am fulfilling my "hippocratic oath". For all you people who think it should be illegal........try getting a tubal ligation at a catholic hospital.
Posted By Carlos : 1:54 AM ET
As a health care professional I'am trained and OATHED to treat every patient with the knowledge I have to the best of my ability. I'am not there to treat them according to what I may believe are not believe. Are we going to let our moral beliefs take the life of a patient in need of health care? I think that is malpractice!
Posted By M.P. New Orleans, La : 2:03 AM ET
Sorry, but I sometimes really don't understand certain people - this story is unbelievable.

A doctor shouldn't be biased.
We give our health in trust and they judge us?
How can a right, individual treatment be ensured, when the doctor concerns more about his moral believes than about the patien's health?

I think it's even worse, that it's legal. Doctors shouldn't be allowed to mix their personal opinion with their job. Those laws need to be banned.

And anyway, they are paid for treating patiens, not for refusing them.
Posted By Rena : 7:25 AM ET
I think as long as the doctor doesn't berate or judge the patient and helps them find alternative care there is no problem here. When my son was born my family practioner refused to preform a circumcision because he didn't believe in it. He gave us his reasons and then when we decided to go ahead with it anyway he referred us to another doctor who performed the procedure. He was still our son's pediatrician and he never judged us or made us feel like bad parents we just had a difference of opinion. I think that the reason that this has people up in arms is because it's primarily based on religious views, had the doctor said they wouldn't prescribe because of an increased risk of heart disease or the fact that condoms are more reliable and actually protect against STD's no one would have cared. The last thing I would want is a doctor who lost his humanity and if that means we have a difference of opinion sometimes, that's alright by me.
Posted By Kerrie : 12:26 AM ET
These doctors are supposed to be scientists first and when they treat patients on a professional level they should behave as scientists. Any physician who cannot should leave the profession and become a cleric.
Posted By Edward : 1:59 AM ET
Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but a true professional would not take it upon themselves to lecture others about matters such as contraception and morality. I am an emergency room nurse and I know of several ER doctors and nurses who have given such moralistic lectures to patients. We should respect and honor the decions made by our patients.

I think the law should require physicians who refuse to do certain procedures or prescribe medications like birth control pills or emergency contraception to provide the patient a referral to a physician who will. But where this can be really problematic is in rural areas of the US where there may not be another physician in the area who can provide the requested service. In such situations I think the physician should be legally required to provide the service or prescribe the medication for time-sensitive things like emergency contraception.
Posted By Jeannie, Arlington, VA : 6:47 AM ET
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