Bill would let health professionals refuse treatment that violates their conscience; critics say it would put discrimination into law

Sen. Stephen Meredith

A bill to allow health-care professionals to refuse to provide treatment that violates their conscience is nearing a floor vote in the state Senate. 

Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, would also exempt providers from liability for exercising their rights and allow individuals to sue if they have been injured through disciplinary action, such as being fired or demoted over a refusal to provide a health-care service.

“Meredith said it is aimed solely at providing protection for health-care workers under pressure to provide certain treatments or medication they oppose in a rapidly changing climate of medical advances,” reports Deborah Yetter of the Louisville Courier Journal..

“This is not intended to deny health care to anyone,” Meredith, a retired hospital CEO, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 20.

Opponents, including the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault ProgramsPlanned Parenthood and the state Fairness Campaign, argued it could curtail care for health services ranging from abortion and psychological counseling to treatment for rape victims, Yetter reports.

“It’s going to put discrimination into the statutes,” said Sheila Schuster, a psychologist and executive director of the mental-health coalition.

Several health providers spoke in favor of the bill in committee, including Dr. Steven House, a Glasgow physician who said doctors “should not be forced to participate in treatments that conflict with their morals, religion or their beliefs.”

The bill would allow individuals to base their objections on “religious, moral, ethical or philosophical beliefs or principles.” It also includes students, such as medical residents or those studying nursing or psychology.

“Critics said the bill is so broadly written that anyone at any health care facility, including the receptionist at the front desk or the janitor cleaning the building, could object to allowing services for someone,” Yetter reports.

As approved by the committee, the bill would give insurance companies and self-funded health plans the same rights as health-care providers, but Meredith filed a floor amendment Feb. 24 to take them out of the bill. As of Feb. 25, the bill had still not been posted for a floor vote.

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