Technology

‘Conscience laws’ endanger patients and contradict health tech’s core values – TechCrunch

Recent laws allowing healthcare providers to refuse care because of conscientious beliefs and denying care to transgender individuals might not seem like an issue for the tech industry at first blush, but these types of legislation directly contradict the core values of health tech.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson last month signed into law S.B. 289, known as the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act,” which allows anyone who provides healthcare services — not just doctors — to refuse to give non-emergency care if they believe the care goes against their conscience.

Arkansas is one of several states in the U.S. that have been pushing laws like this over the past several years. These “conscience laws” are harmful to all patients — particularly LGBTQ individuals, women and rural citizens — especially because over 40% of available hospital beds are controlled by Catholic institutions in some states.

While disguised as a safeguard that prevents doctors from having to participate in medical services that are at odds with their religious beliefs, these laws go far beyond that and should be repealed.

While disguised as a safeguard that prevents doctors from having to participate in medical services that are at odds with their religious beliefs, these laws go far beyond that and should be repealed.

“Non-emergency” service is open to interpretation

The Arkansas legislation is one giant slippery slope. Even beyond the direct effects that the law would have on reproductive rights and the LGBTQ community, it leaves open questions about the many different services that medical professionals could decline simply by saying it goes against their conscience.

Broadly letting healthcare providers decide which services they will perform based on religion, ethics or conscience essentially eliminates protections patients have under federal anti-discrimination regulations.

What constitutes an “emergency” to one doctor or EMT may be deemed a “non-emergency” by another. By allowing medical professionals to avoid performing some services, the bill can be interpreted as allowing anyone involved in the provision of healthcare services to avoid performing any kind of service, as long as they say they believed it wasn’t an emergency at the time.

The law also allows individuals to refuse to refer patients to someone who would provide the desired service for them. This places an undue burden on patients with physical or mental health issues and causes delays in treatment as the patient searches for an alternate provider. In cases of health and life-threatening issues, for example, women have been refused treatment at Catholic medical institutions and forced to ride to the closest emergency care center.

The health tech community is working to improve the health of all

The Arkansas law runs counter to the values of the businesses that are working hard to develop and improve medical technologies. Health tech startups at their core are fighting to provide more and better services to more patients — whether it’s by building platforms to make healthcare accessible to all, developing specific medical devices to improve the quality of service or researching new treatments and vaccines.

Imagine developing a vaccine for a global pandemic and then allowing doctors the right to refuse to administer it because it’s open to interpretation whether the virus represents an emergency to specific people. Or imagine a hospital pharmacist who deliberately tries to spoil hundreds of vaccine doses because of the conspiracy theories he believes. Laws like the one in Arkansas open up the healthcare system to abuse by conspiracy theorists, and it is already the case that many wellness providers are basing their advice and services on QAnon falsehoods.

The health tech community is not just developing medications and devices for patients whose beliefs are similar to their own. Equally, medical professionals should not be making it harder for people to get needed medical care based on personal feelings. On the contrary, the ultimate goal of health tech businesses and healthcare providers alike should be a singular focus on improving the quality of care for all.

“Medical ethics” and anti-LGBTQ laws are unethical

As the health tech community continues to work tirelessly to bring new solutions to the marketplace to improve the health of everyone, it must also stand against laws like this, which threaten to eradicate the important gains that have been made in enhancing the lives and health of patients.

The Arkansas law — and others like it — place the burden of finding appropriate care on the patient instead of on the medical community, where it belongs. These laws must be repealed.


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