August 10, 2006

Could Their Faith Interfere With Your Medical Care?

In mid-July, the Washington Post ran a story titled "A Medical Crisis of Conscience:
Faith Drives Some To Refuse Patients Medication or Care
." It has been in my queue since then. I think I kept putting off posting about it because I knew I'd have to read it thoroughly, and I just couldn't bring myself to do so. I guess you might say that this issue - people allowing others to die because of their faith and anti-science beliefs - is one of my sensitive areas. As a scientist and a helping professional, this type of story hits me at home.
Around the United States, health workers and patients are clashing when providers balk at giving care that they feel violates their beliefs, sparking an intense, complex and often bitter debate over religious freedom vs. patients' rights.
Health providers who believe in superstitious nonsense that prevents them from providing effective services should not be allowed to provide health care. When one's medical welfare is at stake, one should not be burdened with fears about whether the treating professional is a religious fanatic who will base treatment on anything other than the best medical science available. Maybe I'm oversimplifying things, but this does not seem to be a difficult concept.
"If your religious orientation is such that you can't discharge your professional responsibilities, then you shouldn't take on those responsibilities in the first place," said Ken Kipnis, a philosophy professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "You should find other work."
You've all seen cop and lawyer TV shows that have used some version of the line that "Your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins." The idea behind this entertainment cliche is important: individual freedoms are accompanied by responsibilities. If your exercise of religious freedom causes harm to another, then you are liable and should be disciplined or fired.

According to this article, "Congress and more than a dozen states are considering laws to compel workers to provide care -- or, conversely, to shield them from punishment." Shield workers who cause harm to others through religiously-based inaction? What century is this?

"The issue is driven by the rise in religious expression and its political prominence in the United States, and by medicine's push into controversial new areas." Look closely at the first part of that last sentence. This is a serious problem and remains one of the primary reasons I keep this blog active.

Let this article serve as a wake-up call to anyone who is still questioning the merits of religion's intrusion into politics. Let this article run through your mind the next time you visit your doctor. Most of all, let this article renew your inspiration to be an active atheist who promotes rationality and opposes superstition.

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