Getting Tough to Have a Conscience, Work in Health Care

US Bishops Look for Bright Side to Weakened Rule

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WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 22, 2011 ( The U.S. bishops’ conference has classified the government’s weakening of conscience protection for health care workers as a «disappointment,» but it is also noting reasons for hope.

Deirdre McQuade of the Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to Friday’s decision from Health and Human Services to rescind much of a regulation enacted by President George W. Bush.

«The administration’s action today is cause for disappointment, but also offers reasons for hope regarding an emerging consensus in Washington on the need for clear conscience protections for health care providers,» McQuade said.

The existing regulation was issued in 2008. According to McQuade, the new policy eliminates clarifications on how to interpret and enforce federal law protecting the consciences of health care workers.

On the other hand, she lauded news that the Obama administration intends to «increase awareness of the conscience statutes, work to ensure compliance with them, and require that government grants make clear that compliance is required.»

Meanwhile, there are already efforts under way in Congress to clarify and secure conscience protections. The bishops have voiced their support for such measures, including the Protect Life Act, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act.

The Washington Post noted a reaction to Friday’s changes from one of the sponsors of the Protect Life Act, Representative Joe Pitts.

«Today, the Obama administration demonstrated exactly why we need to have strong conscience protection for health workers written into our laws,» he said. «Without legal protection, we can certainly expect even more bureaucratic assaults on the conscience of medical workers.»

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