Earlier this month Leslie Gauthier received a letter from her doctor stating that, as a “Catholic physician” the doctor would no longer prescribe birth control. Unfortunately, Ms. Gauthier’s experience is all too common. Medical providers, clinics, and hospitals across the country are substituting their personal or institutional beliefs for sound medical judgment and denying people medical care.
Putting Personal Beliefs Above Patient Care
In some ways, Ms. Gauthier’s situation could have been worse. At least her doctor let her know about the new restrictions before she came in for her appointment. People are often refused care only after they have arrived at a doctor’s office, a hospital, and even the pharmacy. Last year, a pediatrician refused to treat a newborn infant because her parents were lesbians. When Krista and Jami Contreras arrived at the pediatrician’s office with their six day old daughter, they were greeted, not by the doctor they had carefully selected and previously met, but another doctor. This doctor told them that their original pediatrician had “prayed on it” and decided she couldn’t care for their daughter.
In April, two separate pharmacies refused to fill a prescription to treat Brittany Cartrett’s miscarriage. Another woman responded to Ms. Cartrett’s Facebook post about her experience and told a similar story. That woman ultimately chose to undergo a more invasive surgical procedure to complete her miscarriage rather than face additional humiliation at another pharmacy.
People refused care often don’t even know that there were other treatment options available. When Tamesha Means’ water broke after only 18 weeks of pregnancy, doctors at the Catholic-affiliated Mercy Health Partners hospital sent her home twice. The hospital told her there was nothing they could do, even though in these circumstances terminating the pregnancy would have been the safest course of treatment. There was virtually no chance that the pregnancy could continue and waiting merely placed Ms. Means’ health and life in jeopardy. Ms. Means was only offered care after she returned to the hospital a third time in extreme distress and with an infection. Even then, the hospital staff were in the process of discharging her when she went into labor.
We Deserve Better
It’s becoming increasingly common for people to try to impose their own beliefs on others by refusing to provide services. Sometimes it’s the service they object to and sometimes it’s the people. It’s always discrimination and it’s always wrong. But medical providers, in particular, have an ethical and moral duty to treat their patients with dignity and respect and to provide appropriate and necessary medical care. Personal beliefs should not trump patients’ access to the care they need.