An Ohio state budget signed on June 30 by Gov. Mike DeWine grants permission to medical practitioners and health care institutions to decline to provide any service to which they object based on “moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or principles.”
The new exemptions, found under Section 4743.10 of the budget (p. 1453 – 1455), excuse the medical practitioner “from participating in the particular health care service to which the practitioner has a conflict.” If the provider believes that this has been violated, they have right to civil action for damages or injunctive relief.
Additionally, the budget instructs the practitioner to “seek to transfer the patient to a colleague who will provide the requested health care service.” If no colleague can be identified, then the patient will be notified and given the chance to find another practitioner to complete their request. However, the budget makes clear that the practitioner is still required to assist in all other health care services that do not conflict with their beliefs or convictions, nor do the permissions “override the requirement to provide emergency medical treatment to all patients.”
While opponents of the clause fear that it could provide opportunity for health care providers to discriminate against LGBT individuals, this is not the case. The section refers specifically to objections that have to do with the procedure itself rather than the person. For instance, under this clause, a doctor could object to performing a transgender surgery or an abortion procedure on a patient, but they would still be required to provide that same patient with those services they don’t object to.
The clause only furthers the ability for doctors to object to procedures that they disagree with. For instance, very few would likely object to a doctor who refuses to cut off the perfectly healthy arm of a patient – even if that patient specifically requests it. In the same way, these practitioners are now afforded the specific legal ability to refuse to engage in other acts that they believe to be wrong.
This legislation is similar to debate surrounding Jack Phillips’ refusal to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. It also reopens the debate on where rights begin and end.
What constitutes a right? Negative rights imply that others are not allowed to do things to you because of your inherent worth as a human being. For instance, the right to life means that others should not be allowed to kill you. The right to free speech means that others should not be allowed to censor you. These rights do not require other people to do anything for you – they only require others to not act against you.
But positive rights flip this narrative around. Instead of rights implying what others are not allowed to do to you, this claim instead argues that rights imply what others have to do for you. The right to health care, the right to an abortion and the right to not be misgendered, for instance, all require compelling, sometimes forcefully, someone else to serve you or change their language in some way. In effect, these “rights” often require someone else to give up their own rights, such as their right to practice their religion or their right to free expression – as is the case with Jack Phillips.
That is why this clause is a victory for rights in Ohio. It guarantees that those who do not feel comfortable with engaging in certain medical procedures will not be forced to act against their conscience. It does not discriminate against any patient. Instead, it allows service providers to avoid participating in procedures they find morally dubious while still providing help with other services.
As Christians, we are called to both serve and love those around us (Galatians 6:10). However, this service and love does not mean that we provide people with services that are morally wrong or goods that do not honor God (Galatians 1:10). To do so would actually be a disservice and unloving, as we would be helping others abide in immoral behavior rather than coming alongside them in love to help them turn away from it to abide in Christ (John 15:1-6).
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