SB 1564 is about protecting patients’ rights, not denying providers’ rights

Jul 07, 2016

Imagine you are a patient with a life-threatening ailment seeking medical advice from your health provider. During consultation, your provider withholds options needed to make a fully informed decision about your health, because some of the options conflict with his/her conscience. As a patient, are you comfortable with the possibility that your health care provider may be making “conscience-based objections”, withholding information and ultimately distancing you from health care services because of personal – not clinical – standards?

The Health Care Right of Conscience Act is a policy that permits health care providers to deliver care based on their conscience, which, in most cases, is motivated by religious belief. An amendment to this act, Senate Bill 1564 (SB 1564), has passed the IL Senate and is sitting on Governor Rauner’s desk awaiting his signature. SB 1564 will give a patient the right to know what treatment options are not being provided to them, so that the patient is able to make an informed decision about their own body. The amendment states that:

“All health care facilities shall adopt written access to care and information protocols that are designed to ensure that conscience-based objections do not cause impairment of patients’ health and that explain how conscience-based objections will be addressed in a timely manner to facilitate patient health care services.”

The opposition to this amendment claims that this bill victimizes health care providers, forcing them to provide patients with services that conflict with their personal views. But this is a misguided narrative. Medical care should be patient-centered, not provider-centered. It is the patient’s health that is at stake, and it is the patient, therefore, who should have the ultimate autonomy around his/her care.

Most opposition to this amendment stems from pro-life advocacy groups, which are largely faith-based. They fail to see that this Act in its current state is an encroachment of patient’s rights, and have instead reduced the discussion to an abortion debate. But, this Act extends beyond cases where abortion would be a legitimate medical option. For example, it has allowed health care facilities to refuse to induce labor on several occasions to a sick and bleeding mother, or deny a mother the right to know of tubal ligation, a common family planning procedure implemented after a cesarean section. In short, it has allowed medical decision-making to be biased by faith and not driven by clinical evidence.

This is a significant problem nationwide, as these are not isolated incidents. A report from the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch showed that nearly 20 percent of hospital beds in the United States are “in a facility that complies with Catholic Directives that prohibit a range of health care services even when a woman’s life or health is in jeopardy.” Furthermore, the study found that in 10 states, greater than 30% of hospital beds were in facilities under similar directives.

Illinois is now at the forefront of the battle to protect a patient’s rights. Despite misinformation circulating about this amendment, in the event Governor Rauner signs SB 1564, here are a few facts:

  1. The bill will not force providers to perform abortions
  2. The bill will not force providers to refer patients to locations that perform abortions
  3. The bill will not force providers to recommend abortions
  4. The bill will not force providers to discuss details about alternative treatment options

SB 1564 maintains the right of providers to refuse to perform or assist in a procedure that violates their religious beliefs. This amendment simply requires that they inform the patient that they have not provided them with all available possible treatments, and must provide a list of facilities that do. This is especially valid in cases where withholding information can result in the impairment of the patient’s health. It is a fair compromise.

In any faith-based philosophy where a god bestows an individual with free will, which includes all three major monotheistic religions, the individual alone is responsible for his/her actions. By that logic, a patient has the free will to choose to proceed with a treatment regardless of whether or not it conflicts with a provider’s personal views, and the provider should not demand blame for a treatment for which they did not advocate.

This amendment is not about violating the religious liberty of providers – it is about a patient’s right to know when the provider is involving his/her non-medical beliefs while providing treatment options. It is not about the right of a provider to withhold information – it is about the right of the patient to know what treatments exist that might improve his/her health. The patient’s right to live a healthy life supersedes the personal philosophy of their provider. It is a matter of justice that patients be provided with accurate information so they have the freedom to make a decision about their own health.

For these reasons, call Gov. Rauner today. Urge him to sign SB 1564.

Gov. Rauner’s Springfield Office: 217-782- 0244

Gov. Rauner’s Chicago Office: 312-814- 2121

*The content of this article represents the personal views of the authors and not necessarily of Ibis Reproductive Health.

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