Healthcare News & Insights

New HHS division will protect ‘religious freedom’: What this means for you

Providers who don’t want to perform abortions, treat transgender patients or offer other services that conflict with their religious or moral objections now have more support from President Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But is this religious freedom or discrimination? 

The “Conscience and Religious Freedom” division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights will focus on enforcing protections that are already part of federal law, according to Time magazine.

Supporters of the new initiative say it’ll protect providers from participating in services they disagree with for moral or religious reasons.

“For too long, too many healthcare practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and moral convictions, leading many of them to wonder what future they have in our medical system,” said HHS Acting Secretary Eric Hargan, as quoted in the Time article.

Punishments for organizations that don’t allow their workers to express religious or moral objections to certain services include a loss of government funds.

Discrimination concerns

The new division is already controversial, with LGBT advocates saying it’ll allow doctors to discriminate against marginalized populations who already face significant barriers to finding and accessing health care.

Doctors and nurses can refuse to perform and participate in multiple procedures that “violate their consciences,” such as abortion, sterilization, gender reassignment surgery and assisted suicide.

“This is the use of religion to hurt people because you disapprove of who they are,” Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality told Politico. “Any rule that grants a license to discriminate would be a disgrace and a mockery of the principal of religious freedom we all cherish.”

Many healthcare organizations associated with religious groups, however, feel the division is long overdue.

Keys for your hospital

Your facility could be affected by the new Conscience and Religious Freedom division. To stay on top of things, it’s important to remain aware of staff members’ religious and cultural differences so you can anticipate problems before they arise. You don’t have to know everyone’s moral codes off the top of your head, but be open to listening and promoting empathy among top leadership.

Provide cultural sensitivity training for all employees, and update them as new information comes out about how this division will enforce the law.

In addition, focus on creating an environment of openness and honesty, so providers feel they can discuss any religious or moral objections to procedures or treatments with their supervisors. That way, concerns can be addressed internally before anything escalates.

For non-religious facilities, it’s critical to balance providers’ rights of refusal with patients’ rights to receive full access to medically necessary treatments. This’ll keep you from facing allegations of discrimination from patients.

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