Whatever side you fall on the #KimDavis issue, there are some provocative questions that have always lingered in my mind. There’s been a lot of discussion about the gap between religious freedom and our duties, and I’ve always wondered if there was a “right” position as a physician. I was raised a Catholic, attended a few Catholic schools, when they were available to me as an Army brat, and went to a Jesuit College, Fordham, in the Bronx.
To whom do we owe our responsibility of care?
To faith, which may deny access to some of the things that many physicians prescribe every day?
To patients, who may choose to do things that our personal beliefs would not allow?
I have colleagues who have chosen their faith over patient wishes. Some refer patients to others, but others feel even that crosses the line, and simply say they do not prescribe them. Some violate the strict rules of their own faith, and prescribe them anyway.
I am not very familiar with the tenets of other faiths, but I invite you to teach me about what issues your particular faith may cause in daily practice if you encounter conflicts with your religion. There is at least one study that reports based on a survey that conflict occurs fairly often.
I think the major issue for me is transparency.
The mergers of Catholic hospitals with non-sectarian hospitals have often caused a stir because Catholic hospitals do not allow abortions. But I’ve never seen any signage that warns people entering a Catholic hospital that they may not do abortions, even to save the mothers’ life.
I’m not picking on Catholics, but using them as a familiar example, and also because about 10 percent of hospitals are Catholic, accounting for about one in six beds, so they have some influence.
If you have a practice in which you would feel that doing certain things would violate your faith, I think that should be on your signage and patients should be notified. I defer to lawyers and civil rights folks for the notification methods and proper size and lettering for the notices. The same idea holds, IMHO, for any merchant who declines to do something that may interfere with your beliefs.
I brought a bottle of wine into a restaurant owned by Muslims, and was asked not to open it. It was more embarrassing than offensive to me, because I would not want to violate the beliefs of the owners and operators, but I also would not eat in that restaurant again (though I have gotten take-out from it). It would have helped me if I had known that they do not want alcohol in their restaurant.
Have your personal beliefs interfered with institutional policies? How do you handle your personal beliefs when medical care might include something that violates your belief? What is the right thing to do?
Is transparency enough? Or will states or the federal government begin to legislate how far we may allow personal belief to interfere with public accommodation?
The bakers in Oregon who were fined for refusing to bake for a gay couple were fined for breaking the law because Oregon law specifically includes sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination laws.