Should the religious beliefs of healthcare providers effect the way care, treatment or advice is given to patients
Medical professionals should not let their religious beliefs affect the health care outcomes in their patients. Religion in healthcare has become a big issue in today’s society. Various studies have indicated that physicians and other care providers are driven by their religious feelings while providing care for their patients. People have been refused treatment/care because of the healthcare workers religious beliefs. The discrimination of treatment and deviance of care has been noted on the issues of abortion, denial of appropriate treatment to transgender couples and overall a woman’s right to access care has been suppressed. This is an alarming situation, and under the context of medical ethics, such actions and behavior are nothing less than a criminal offence.
A healthcare institution should always provide the best care options in bringing positive health outcome in patients. In fact, medical ethics also endorses issues like beneficence and non-malificence. This means that every health care decision and planned intervention should be aimed to provide maximum health benefits to a patient. On the other hand, it is also important that the patient should not be harmed by treatment interventions either directly or indirectly. Direct harm may refer to side effects or impaired toleration profile, exhibited by a patient due to pharmacological or non-pharmacological interventions. Indirect harm indicates refusal of treatment or inadequate care provisions, which brings about negative health care outcomes in a patient. Medical ethics endorses that under any condition, a patient should not be harmed. Therefore, a risk benefits ratio of providing a particular care provision should be analyzed. If it is reflected that a specific intervention causes more harm than good, such interventions must not be continued or extended to a patient.
There are many instances where discriminations and denials have become prominent. Women have been refused the right to abort a fetus; that is a direct violation of autonomy, under the code of medical ethics. It is stated that a patient should always be consulted regarding the intervention or non-intervention of a therapeutic schedule. Although gay marriages have been legalized, the Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Gay and Transgender (LBGT) have been discriminated against because of the social stigma and religious beliefs that are inherent in their care providers. Once again, this is an act of violation against humanity. Healthcare providers under any circumstances should not let their religious beliefs affect, the provision of healthcare to their patients.
For example, Roger and Allen, a married homosexual couple was discriminated and denied treatment by a nurse in a tertiary care hospital. Although they had the legal attorney of a gay marriage, still they were discriminated. The nurse was aware of their relationship and confronted with the family members that she cannot extend care to the couple. Moreover, Allen was asked to leave the hospital along with Roger (Ford, 2013).
This was a very unprofessional and inhuman conduct on the nurse’s part because she was violating the legal aspects too. The American Medical Association (2015) clearly states that questioning of sexual orientation or marital status is prohibited, in rendering health care facilities to patients.
Homosexual couples are often discriminated in health care setups. An incident took place where one homosexual couple took their child to a pediatrician. The colleague of the pediatrician reviewed the background of the couple and refused to treat. She said that a child is off course a gift of God, but she is unable to extend care for a child who is reared by homosexuals (Ford, 2015).
Women have been especially affected by physicians’ religious beliefs. It is observed that women are suppressed in making their decisions regarding their health care needs. An incidence occurred, where a rape victim went to seek health care assistance at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Pennsylvania. She explained the attending physician of her condition and expressed her desire to take the morning after pill, to prevent unplanned pregnancy. To her dismay, she found that the attending physician immediately denied her wish. He mentioned that he could not encourage such acts that are against his religious beliefs. Moreover, the behavior and attitude of the physician, she was unable to go to another gynecologist, for fear of being judged with pregnancy (Erdely, 2007).
A study conducted on the Catholic hospitals in the United States revealed deviations in care provisions, which were inflicted due to religious beliefs. Catholic Hospitals are the largest religious-affiliated health care providers in the United States. The study evaluated the policies and practice guidelines on the issue of management of pregnancy and miscarriage. The study revealed certain important facts that are a curse to the modern healthcare vision. The salient features reflected by the study were:
The physicians attached to such Catholic hospitals were forced to recommend unnecessary diagnostic tests, which delayed care provisions. Such diagnostic tests were enforced by the hospital authorities to ensure the religious protocol of such institutions. Results reflected that delayed care provisions increased complications in patients and some instances proved fatal.
Moreover, the physicians were asked to refer emergency patients suffering from pregnancy or miscarriage to other hospitals. They were directed for such actions because the hospital authorities mentioned that they could not intervene in such cases, where there is a violation of religious protocols. Further, it was stated that the religious principles prevent such early interventions, although it might be medically and clinically warranted.
The study also reflected that the hospital administration directly intervened and interfered with the physician’s communication with the patients for deciding care options.
The study clearly indicated a violation of medical ethics and the activities of such hospitals were put forward the national Women’s Law Center. This authoritative body filed a complaint against these institutions, to the Department of Health and Human Services. Their main requests are to enforce standards of care in these hospitals and mandatory requirement of informed consent from the patients.
In the same study, an incidence was brought forward where a nurse denied abortion in a couple. The couple had a medical emergency and needed an urgent abortion. However, the nurse denied providing such services, as she believed it was against her religious beliefs. The situation of the couple was very critical and the hospital authorities decided to shift the nurse in another health care unit, where religious conflicts would be minimal (Angel et al, 2009).
A study done on US Physicians reflected the other side of the story. Often patients belonging to developing or underdeveloped countries present themselves with various religious and spiritual beliefs. It would be a matter to debate on the benefits of such practices or beliefs. However, the issue is that the physicians’ are insensitive to such beliefs and prioritize their evidenced based knowledge. It must be acknowledged, that patients should be treated without jeopardizing their religious beliefs or spiritual beliefs. Such issues may delay healthcare outcome in patients as because they might not adhere or comply with treatment regimens (Curlin, 2005).
Another study reflected that whether male or female, end of life decisions are taken by the attending physician. Such decisions are based on their spiritual and religious beliefs based on reducing the agony in palliative care patients. This is a clear bias in providing treatment regimens and is highly undesirable. The patient may be debilitated and might not express his or her palliative care needs, but the physician must be sensitive to inquire with the family members regarding their decisions for the patients (Lo, Quill & Tulsky, 1999).
From the above discussions and facts it becomes apparent that indeed healthcare providers are guided by their religious beliefs in providing care to their patients. In some instances, it is important that the physician should be aligned with the religious and spiritual beliefs of their patients. However, under any circumstances, the religious beliefs of a physician should lead to the harm in their patients. Once again, non-malificence should be viewed under this situation. This means a physician or a healthcare provider may have certain religious beliefs, but it should not hinder treatment outcomes in a patient or would create harm in a patient. If it is evident that such beliefs outweigh the risks and impose healthcare benefits to a patient, such beliefs would always be welcomed.
Angel M. Foster, Amanda Dennis & Fiona Smith, Assessing Hospital Policies & Practices Regarding Ectopic Pregnancy & Miscarriage Management: Results of a National Qualitative Study (Ibis Reproductive Health, 2009) (hereinafter Study), available at http://www.ibisreproductivehealth.org/news/documents/Summaryofqualitativestudy.pdf
Lo B, Quill T, Tulsky J: Discussing palliative care with patients: Ann Intern Med 1999:130;744-749
Curlin FA, Lantos JD, et al. Religious characteristics of U.S. physicians: A National Survey. J Gen Intern Med 2005;20:629-634