The Impact of “Religious Freedom” Bills on Patient Care

In the past several months we’ve seen a number of “religious freedom” bills being passed by state legislatures. These bills generally seek to provide protections for those who do not wish to be compelled to serve LGBTQ individuals or provide them services. These bills have taken a darker turn, however, with the introduction of laws in Mississippi and Tennessee that provide exemptions for medical and counseling professionals, respectively, from treating patients based on religious grounds:

Medical exemptions, though, deserve to be considered in a category of their own. Doctors and therapists interact with people at their most vulnerable, and their training and expertise gives them incredible power over patients. The advice they provide—or refuse to provide—to an LGBT patient could influence the treatment that person seeks. It could make that person less likely to seek primary care or identify themselves as LGBT to other doctors, which can lead to the “failure to screen, diagnose, or treat important medical problems,” according to the American Medical Association. The medical community has a problem: What should hospitals, private practices, and medical associations do about doctors and therapists who say it’s against their beliefs to provide care to LGBT patients?

Most major organizations and professional bodies in both of these professions agree that LGBTQ individuals are not diseased, disordered, or disturbed based upon their identification. While some organizations on the fringe of the profession have not joined with the majority in condemning conversion practices and call for equal patient rights for people with alternative orientations, having legislation permitting this sort of discrimination is a dangerous precedent.

It will be telling in the coming months to see what happens legally as well as within the professional organizations impacted by these laws. Ultimately, those of us in the medical and counseling professions are called to treat patients as well as we can and to improve quality of life, not to judge or condemn them. Perhaps this latest development in the fight for equal patient rights will provide a broader platform and raise awareness of the challenges LGBTQ individuals can experience in trying to seek care.

The medical community has largely rejected practitioners who are unwilling to accept LGBT patients in the fullness of their identity. This probably does have a silencing and exclusionary effect on some doctors, therapists, and patients, which is what laws like the one in Mississippi are trying to address. But freedom in medicine is not like freedom in every other sphere of public life. Physicians are not bound to act according to conviction. They are bound to do no harm.


2 Responses

  1. Tammy
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  2. […] individuals. I’ve written about the dangers of conversion therapies before. With the recent legislative action in Mississippi and Tennessee, and with more states currently considering similar bills it’s important that we continue to […]

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