Monday, August 25, 2008

HHS Issues Proposed Rules To Protect Conscience Rights of Health Care Workers

Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services formally released for comment proposed regulations (full text) designed to enforce federal provisions that protect conscience rights of doctors and other health care providers participating in programs receiving HHS funding. The regulations apply to those who have moral or religious objections to providing certain medical procedures, including sterilization and abortion. An HHS press release says the new regulations would clarify that the protections apply to institutional health care providers as well as to individual employees working for federally funded recipients, and would require recipients of certain HHS funds to certify their compliance with laws protecting health care workers' rights of conscience.

Reporters at a White House press briefing on Friday (full text) raised the question of whether the proposed regulations were broad enough to cover pharmacists. The proposed rules appear to omit a controversial definition of "abortion" that appeared in an earlier draft that was circulated to members of Congress. That earlier draft included a specific definition that encompassed prescribing, dispensing or administering drugs preventing implantation of a fertilized egg as abortion. The new proposal has no definition of abortion in it. (See prior posting.)