Just Do Your Damned Job

A new law allows doctors in Mississippi to refuse treatment to people they disapprove of for religious reasons. (Guess which people we’re talking about.) From The Atlantic:

Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is not a disease. It took a long time, but nearly all medical organizations now agree that queerness is not a “sociopathic personality disturbance,” as the American Psychiatric Association once maintained.

“Nearly all” is an important caveat, though. There are still a few organizations—which most doctors and scholars would likely consider part of the fringes of medicine—that challenge this view. Some are dissenting offshoots of mainstream associations. Others are the de-fanged descendants of ex-gay-therapy groups. They’re often accused of outright bigotry, but these doctors tend to frame their dissent differently, placing an emphasis on “choice.” Patients have a right to choose a therapist who will help them with unwanted same-sex attractions or feelings of gender dysphoria, they say. And physicians and therapists have a right to choose not to provide treatments that conflict with their religious beliefs. These treatments might include sex-change operations, hormone-replacement therapy for transgender people, fertility treatments to same-sex couples, or counseling for patients who are in non-heterosexual relationships.

I said this before about pharmacists who want to be able to refuse to fill prescriptions, but I’ll repeat it here. If you’re mulling over your career options and want one that allows you to live your religious faith to the exclusion of all other considerations, you have only to apply to the clergy. In that role, passing moral judgment on others is part of the job description. But if you want to be a doctor, or a pharmacist, or even just an ordinary business owner, you have to accept that you’ll sometimes be dealing with people who are only interested in your providing the service you advertise, and who couldn’t possibly care less what your religious convictions are. Participating in a pluralistic world means accepting that religious convictions, however deeply held, aren’t always what should govern relations between people. Doctors in particular swear an oath to treat the sick to the best of their ability, and that oath (wisely) doesn’t provide a religious exemption. As the Tennessee Counseling Association said, in response to a proposed religious exemption law for counselors and psychiatrists in Tennessee:

If this bill is necessary for counselors, why not for all health care providers? If counselors should have the right to treat only certain clients, why not nurses, social workers, physicians or dentists? When we choose health care as a profession, we choose to treat all people who need help, not just the ones who have goals and values that mirror our own.

Those M.D.s and counselors who can’t shoulder the burden of treating everyone who seeks their aid should consider a new line of work. They certainly shouldn’t expect to keep the social and financial privileges of being called “Doctor” while shifting the burden of their moral stance onto patients.

Conscience sometimes does require sacrifice. The problem with these medical professionals is that they want that sacrifice to be someone else’s instead of their own. Shame on them.


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