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  • New “Conscience and Religious Freedom” Division at the Department of Health and Human Services Sanctions Discrimination in Healthcare

    01/18/2018

    Statement of HIVMA Chair Melanie Thompson, MD:

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ establishment of a “Conscience and Religious Freedom” Division is deeply concerning and will roll back critical protections that ensured women, LGBTQ individuals and other minority and vulnerable populations could not be denied medical care. The name itself is ironic, as such a measure is both unconscionable and counter to the principals of beneficence fundamental to all of the world’s religions. 

    The new division, designed to “protect” healthcare providers who discriminate in the care and services they provide, defies the fundamental medical ethic to first do no harm. Using federal dollars to shield providers who choose to discriminate, rather than protect vulnerable patients and provide services to improve their health is counter to the mission of HHS, wasteful of scarce federal funds, and will result in delayed or lack of care for vulnerable individuals, threatening their health and lives.

    This proposal follows a series of harmful actions including the release of federal style guides advising against the use of the term “transgender”; the mass dismissal of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and attacks on healthcare coverage and other services targeted to the poor that threaten the health, well-being and security of all Americans. It should go without saying that all individuals regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation have the right to access quality competent health care services without stigma and discrimination. 

    While the examples given during the announcement of this regressive policy and approach to healthcare today focused on assisted suicide and abortion services, its impacts will go well beyond those examples, shifting the foundation for medical decisions ranging from basic preventive services to lifesaving care and treatment – from sound, scientific practice to healthcare providers’ personal beliefs. 

    Allowing healthcare providers including large institutions to discriminate in how and who they treat will harm individuals and will obstruct America’s public health response to the HIV and STD epidemics. As medical providers, we emphasize that all health care providers have an ethical and professional obligation to provide all patients with humane and competent medical treatment and care. The legislative, judicial, and executive branches have an ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that this occurs, and we must hold them accountable when they fall short.

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    HIVMA is an organization of nearly 5,000 clinicians and researchers whose professional focus is HIV medicine. HIVMA’s mission is to promote quality in HIV care by advocating policies and supporting programs that ensure a comprehensive and humane response to the AIDS pandemic informed by science and social justice. Nested within the Infectious Diseases Society of America, HIVMA's work includes creating clinical and educational tools and resources; supporting clinical training and research opportunities to build HIV workforce capacity; and promoting policies and programs to improve access to HIV prevention and care.

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