Protections for providers’ conscience considered
Published March 1, 2013
The Judiciary Committee heard testimony March 1 on a bill that would create the Health Care Freedom of Conscience Act.
LB564, introduced by Omaha Sen. John Nelson, would allow health care providers or facilities to decline to participate in any health care function that violates their religious, moral or ethical beliefs. Health care providers and facilities declining to participate in a health care function that violates their conscience would be immune from civil and criminal penalties.
Under the bill, a civil action could be brought against providers, public officials or medical boards who discriminate against health care professionals who decline health care services that violate their conscience.
Nelson said the bill would provide protection for health care providers.
“The patient is important, but so is the health provider and we must allow them to act in accordance with their conscience,” he said.
Anna Franzonello of Americans United for Life testified in support of the bill. Physicians continually are facing ethical dilemmas, she said, and they should not be coerced into acting against their conscience.
Clyde Meckel, a Lincoln physician, also testified in support of the bill. While the practice of medicine requires technical competency, he said, it is a moral activity that requires a covenantal relationship between a patient and a physician.
“Patients want compassionate care from those with moral integrity,” Meckel said.
Bruce Rieker, vice president of the Nebraska Hospital Association, testified in opposition to the bill. The hospital’s primary responsibility is to its patients, he said, but the bill prioritizes the physicians’ interests.
“The providers already have a choice,” Riekers said, explaining that they have an option to work at a faith-based hospital if they do not want to provide certain services.
Christopher Welsh of the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys also testified in opposition to the bill, and said it would change the standard of care based upon each individual doctor’s conscience.
“This is not a patient bill,” he said. “This is an immunity bill that allows a physician to hide behind their personal conscience.”
Tracy Durbin, director of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, testified in opposition to the bill. It could endanger women living in small communities who need emergency medical treatment and are denied access to care, she said.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.