COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Health care providers in South Carolina may soon be able to refuse to perform procedures that they believe violate their morals, ethics or religious beliefs.
These “medical conscience rights” would protect practitioners, including doctors, nurses and medical students, from dismissal or punishment for choosing not to participate. Healthcare institutions and payers would also have legal protections from the state for refusing these procedures on moral grounds.
This week, a group of 50 medical students, doctors and nurses sent a letter to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster urging him to veto the bill, H.4776, once it reaches his desk.
“With doctors and medical students in particular, we each take an oath to uphold scientific knowledge, to treat our patients to the best of our abilities and to do no harm. Bills like H.4776 completely erase any liability for any physician or provider who fails to uphold their oath to protect their patients and treat them to the best of their abilities,” Thomas Agostini, a medical student in South Carolina who has signed the letter. , mentioned.
Agostini and others have argued that this bill becoming law could lead to denial of care for services such as gender-affirming care, lifesaving drugs to prevent and treat HIV, and family planning services.
State House opponents argued it could particularly hurt South Carolinians in areas where doctors are already hard to come by.
“What are we doing here?” Rep. Roger Kirby, D-Florence, asked one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, during debate in the House of Representatives on March 30.
“All this bill does is allow a medical provider or someone who works with them to opt out of controversial procedures, and that’s really not about procedure, it’s is a matter of conscience. So if it violates your conscience to have an abortion, you can refrain from it,” McCravy replied.
South Carolina law already protects doctors, nurses and technicians who refuse to perform abortions because they find them wrong, but this bill would add medical students to that list, who aren’t covered by the current law.
Agostini said he and others share the same concerns as opponents of the bill in the General Assembly about more barriers to care, especially in rural areas, citing South Carolina’s failure to expand Medicaid.
Although practitioners can recommend others who may perform procedures they refuse, the bill would not require or recommend that they do so.
“It’s not necessarily that people have a group of doctors or a group of practitioners that they can choose from if they’re denied care,” Agostini said. “Often people can only have options based on their location, insurance status, mobility.”
But supporters of the legislation argue that this bill could do the opposite and keep more medical professionals on the job, because they wouldn’t need to balance their morality with the fear of being fired.
“Providers are reluctant to speak out on many of these bioethical issues for fear of being fired or muzzled or having their admitting privileges restricted,” said Columbia orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard McCain.
The bill explicitly prohibits denial of service based on race, and it would not apply to emergency proceedings, as federal law requires that such services be rendered.
But Dr. McCain believes the right to refuse elective procedures they deem inadmissible is one health care provider that should be legally protected.
“A physician should always treat each patient with care, compassion, concern and skill,” he said.
That bill passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate, largely by party, before the end of the legislative session last week.
But the chambers have passed different versions of it, so a small group of Senate and House members will then have to craft a compromise bill to send to the governor.
The Trump administration has put a medical conscience rights rule on the books nationally.
But that rule never took full effect after being stalled in federal court and could soon be officially repealed by the Biden administration.
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