By Mary Rodrigues Legislative Assistant – Department of Federal Legislation
“I was forced to choose between following my conscience and keeping my job to support my family.” — Fe Vinoya, Emergency Room Registered Nurse from Same Day Surgery, New Jersey
“Do no harm” is a phrase that many of us are familiar with from the medical profession. It refers to the oath taken by medical professionals to care for their patients to the best of their ability and to follow their conscience and training as they provide that care. In hospitals and emergency rooms life or death decisions have to be made quickly and frequently. As patients, we trust our doctors and nurses to make the best decisions for our care.
But what if the doctors and nurses caring for us are being forced to act against their own consciences and beliefs? What if their rights and freedoms are being violated by their superiors and they are forced to choose between saving a life and saving their job? In an environment where every second counts, these are not the decisions our doctors and nurses should be forced to contemplate.
On Monday, three medical professionals from across the United States gathered in the nation’s capitol to share their testimonies and explain why the Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 644/S.301) is crucial not just in preventing government discrimination, but also in allowing health care professionals to see that their patients have access to the best care without fear of losing their jobs or rights. The Act would uphold the conscience rights of health care providers, religious charities, and churches who are being forced to participate in or provide coverage for abortions.
Cathy DeCarlo, a nurse from Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, shared how she was forced to take part in a gruesome dismemberment abortion after being lied to about the nature of emergency. Cathy said she was told by her supervisor that there would be no time for her to get another nurse to perform the procedure and that she (DeCarlo) would be charged with insubordination if she did not assist in the abortion. DeCarlo later found out that the situation was not nearly as urgent as the supervisor had told her, and that there would have been more than enough time to find another nurse to assist with the procedure. But Cathy had already been forced to witness and aid the doctor as a 22-week-old baby was brutally dismembered in a late term abortion.
Cathy recounted her horror from the event saying, “It was like something out of a horror film…I still have nightmares.” Cathy wanted to do the best she could to help her patient, even at the expense of her own wellbeing. She speaks to her dedication to those in her care saying, “I never let the patient know I was crumbling inside.”
Despite the fact that Cathy had evidence and documentation to prove that her rights were violated in that incident and that she was lied to about the nature of the emergency, her lawsuit was dismissed because a federal appeals court said she had no right to sue under the Church amendment , an early effort to protect the rights of health care providers who do not wish to participate in providing abortions
Fe Vinoya, a nurse from New Jersey, also told her story about how supervisors would lie about the nature of emergency when forcing nurses to take part in these horrific abortions. She too commented that “In practice, these (conscience protection) laws are only as effective as the government’s ability to enforce them.” “I was forced to choose between following my conscience and keeping my job to support my family.”
She mentioned that a failure to comply would often lead to well qualified nurses with over thirty years of experience in a unit being removed and replaced by less qualified individuals who were willing to take part in abortion procedures. As the laws stand now, nurses are forced to take part in these traumatizing operations that violate their religious freedoms and rights as citizens or they run the risk of losing their jobs and ability to care for and provide for their patients, their families, and themselves.
Sandra Mendoza, a pediatric nurse from Illinois, shared how she was punished for trying to stand by her conscience and act according to her beliefs. Her refusal to assist in abortions cost her job, despite the fact that she had been guaranteed by the hospital that she would not have to take part in those procedures.
Sandra had been an exemplary nurse who had received praise and recommendation from her supervisors in the months prior to her taking a stand, but the hospital still made the decision to replace her. Sandra was no longer able to assist her own children in their academic pursuits, including her son who was forced to delay his college education and find alternatives without his mother’s assistance. Sandra said she wanted to be there for her children and help provide for them, but she could not force herself to take the life of another innocent child to do so. “I am called to serve others and do no harm,” she stated commenting that no doctor or nurse should be forced out of employment for following these beliefs.
There have been previous attempts to create laws and amendments that safeguard the consciences of health care providers, however, these acts have failed to give sufficient legal recourse to doctors and nurses when their rights have been violated. The Conscience Protection Act will bolster the attempts made by previous amendments to protect these rights.
It will codify the Hyde-Weldon amendment, which prohibits discrimination against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage by federal, state, and local governments receiving federal funding. It will also provide clarification for what specific types of government discrimination is forbidden. These conscience protection laws are vital not only for the protection and well being of doctors and nurses’ rights, but also to safeguard the trust that is so vital to the hospital environment. There needs to be legal recourse for doctors and nurses whose trust in their supervisors has been violated simply to force them to participate in procedures they don’t agree with.
These nurses want to continue in the work and service they feel they have been called to do, but they can’t do that if their jobs, rights, and livelihood are at risk. As Cathy DeCarlo says, “No one ever wants to sue the hospital they work for…we just want answers to why our rights were violated.”
For more on Federal Legislation and Conscience Protections see here: http://www.nrlc.org/federal/anda/