Conscience Laws

New Hampshire Medical-Conscience Bill

By Wesley J. Smith

The question of “medical conscience,” that is, whether doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and the like can be forced to participate in medical procedures or provide services with which they have a religious or moral objection, is heating up. Now, New Hampshire is considering a bill that would provide protection for such dissenting medical professionals.

First, the protections would protect medical professionals from being discriminated against for refusing to participate in specifically enumerated procedures. From HB 1787:

A health care provider has the right to conscientiously object to participating in an abortion, sterilization, or the prescription or provision of artificial contraception.

The bill would prevent dissenting professionals from being held liable or criminally culpable for refusing to violate their consciences in the enumerated services or procedures:

A health care provider who conscientiously objects to participating in an abortion, sterilization, or the prescription or provision of artificial contraception shall not be administratively, civilly, or criminally liable to any person, estate, public or private entity, or public official.

This is key: The bill would also make it illegal to discriminate against a refusing professional and grant a private cause of action to professionals who contend they were discriminated against because they refused to participate in the enumerated procedures:

Any health care provider discriminated against or injured by any person, health care provider, health care institution, public or private institution, public official, medical licensing board . . . may commence a civil action. Upon finding a violation . . . the health care provider shall be entitled to recover threefold the actual damages including pain and suffering sustained by the health care provider, the costs of the civil action, and reasonable attorney’s fees. In no case shall recovery be less than $10,000 for each violation, in addition to costs of the civil action and reasonable attorney’s fees. These damage remedies shall be cumulative and not exclusive of other remedies afforded under any other state or federal law.

With the ACLU suing Catholic hospitals and the outcry we heard recently after the announcement by HHS of a proposed new office to increase enforcement of existing federal conscience laws, state legislation such as this bill is, unfortunately, quite necessary. The right of a private action would, in particular, deter adverse actions against dissenting professionals.

The medical establishment will oppose this bill in all likelihood, as have the usual political special-interest groups. The bill must be voted out of committee by the first, so we’ll see if it passes.

I, for one, hope it does. In our increasingly morally polyglot society, comity is the necessary social adhesive to keep us from blowing apart.

EDITOR’S NOTE. Wesley’s great columns appear at National Review Online and are reposted with the author’s permission.

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