New Federal Rule Permits Withholding of Medical Treatments, Information

The Bush administration has approved a new "conscience protection" rule that allows health care workers to opt out of administering any form of medical care they feel is objectionable on moral or religious grounds. The new rule will permit emergency room workers to withhold information from rape victims about access to emergency contraception, and will allow doctors in federally-funded clinics to refuse to tell a pregnant woman that her fetus has a severe abnormality. A press release on the Department of Health and Human Services Web site says the law will "protect health care providers from discrimination." DHHS secretary Michael Leavitt said that doctors have a duty only "to provide care that they are comfortable providing." The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops praised the new rules, saying medical workers "should not be required to take the very human life they are dedicated to protecting." The rule is scheduled to take effect the day before President Bush leaves office. Democratic House Representatives Diana DeGette of Colorado and Louise Slaughter of New York plan to introduce a Congressional resolution rejecting the Bush administration's last-minute rules.