When doctors refuse to treat LGBT patients
According to their medical oath, doctors are suppose to treat their patients regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, or age. This includes LGBT patients.
But with anti-LGBT laws like the ones in Mississippi and Tennessee, do medical practitioners have the option in not treating someone based on a religious conviction or belief?
Different values between doctors and LGBT patients
According to Paul Church, a urologist and a practicing doctor in Massachusetts, it’s not about discrimination but rather of values– and a medical obligation about the risks associated with men having sex with other men.
“We are supposed to counsel patients about self-destructive habits like smoking and overeating, but we’re not supposed to place any judgment on behaviors that involve these sexual practices, for fear that we’ll be accused of being discriminatory or bigoted,” Church told The Atlantic.
“Physicians who do not wish to celebrate LGBT behaviors– that does not make them anti-gay. We do not see ourselves as fighting an LGBT community. We see ourselves as fighting a dictatorship of political correctness,” said Michelle Cretella, the president of the American College of Pediatricians (ACP).
Church, an Evangelical Christian, is a member of the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (ATCSI). Church and Cretella are part of a small network of medical-professional associations that are in opposition to mainstream groups like the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The AAP supports adoption by same-sex couples. Likewise, the AMA states in their ethics guidelines: “Physicians who offer their services to the public may not decline to accept patients because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis that would constitute invidious discrimination.”
In response to this, groups like the ATCSI and the ACP argue that doctors should have medical exemption in participating in procedures that violate their conscience.
Giving LGBT patients the right treatment
However, these medical exemptions are problematic. The AMA noted that the advice that doctors give– or refuse to give– could influence the treatment that the LGBT patient is seeking.
An LGBT patient might not look for primary care or identify as LGBT to doctors because of these exemptions. This, the AMA said, could lead to the “failure to screen, diagnose, or treat important medical problems.”
“We have a professional obligation, and when we have a specific ethical policy that prohibits discrimination, we expect physicians will adhere to that,” said Jesse Ehrenfeld, a doctor and co-directer of the LGBT health program at Vanderbilt. He was also the first openly gay member of the AMA’s board of trustees.
In response to the Tennessee law that would protect counselors from objecting to gay marriage and non-marital sex, the Tennessee Counseling Association said in a statement, “When we choose health care as a profession, we choose to treat all people who need help, not just the ones who have goals and values that mirror our own.”
As Emma Green of The Atlantic wrote on the treatment of LGBT patients: “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.”