Florida weighing legal options for health care ‘conscience’ law

A view of signage outside the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

A view of signage outside the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

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The Florida Legislature began moving forward on Tuesday with a bill that would allow a health care provider to act on their “conscience” when deciding whether to provide certain treatments to patients.

For some lawmakers, the proposal exposed the line between doctors’ religious freedom and medical discrimination against patients.

The measure would provide broad protections for a healthcare provider or insurer to avoid elective procedures that they believe violate their religious, moral or ethical beliefs. Religiously oriented health care companies would be allowed to make staffing, employment, and contracting decisions in accordance with these beliefs under the bill, House Bill 747. And no health care provider could not be prosecuted after an employee exercised his “right of conscience”.

“This bill does not allow a health care provider the right to cancel a patient because of who they are as a person or the beliefs they have,” said the measure’s sponsor, the representing John Snyder, R-Stuart. “It just gives that vendor the ability to opt out of performing a specific function, procedure, or requirement.”

Senator Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, introduced a similar proposal, Senate Bill 1820.

Under Florida law, health care providers are already allowed to refuse to participate in termination of pregnancy, prescription of contraceptive services, or counseling that goes against the provider’s religious beliefs. .

Federal law also provides physicians with a number of conscience-based protections, particularly in the area of ​​abortion.

However, the bill would expand those protections and establish a new legal course of action for providers who believe their conscience rights have been violated. If a doctor is fired for refusing to perform an abortion or prescribe contraception, that provider could now sue their employer under the bill.

Democrats on the House committee that heard the bill on Tuesday raised a number of questions about the scope of the protections.

The bill is drafted so broadly that patients could be discriminated against by doctors who have personal beliefs, said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton.

“There are unintended consequences of this bill. It’s not well built, Skidmore said. “It does not define specific treatments. It does not protect against negligence. It’s completely ambiguous. »

The bill does not list specific procedures that a medical provider could object to. It simply says that these providers cannot be compelled to perform a “health care service”, which is defined as “inpatient or outpatient testing or treatment of a disease, condition or dysfunction human or medical or other healthcare-related research”.

Given the wording of the bill, Skidmore said, what would prevent an addict from being denied treatment by a doctor morally opposed to illegal drugs? Or an anti-war doctor to treat a veteran? Others questioned whether the bill would prevent transgender people from being denied services.

Snyder argued that in many scenarios proposed by Democrats, patients would be protected by federal non-discrimination laws. Still, he said in an interview, he plans to change the legislation to make it clear that federal laws act as a proper safeguard for his bill.

“I anticipate an amendment the next time the committee stops,” Snyder said.

Dozens of Floridians made their voices heard at the committee hearing. Most of them, led by religious organizations and social conservative groups, supported the bill.

By the end of the 90-minute hearing on the bill, lawmakers had grown a little testy. Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, said he needed to “inject some reality” into the debate among lawmakers — which was largely dominated by Democratic opponents of the measure.

But on one point, Democrats and Republicans have found common ground.

“Do you agree or disagree that morality and ethics can be subjective? That everyone can define their own morals and ethics? Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, asked Snyder at one point.

“…Yeah, it’s subjective,” Snyder said. “There is no debate on that.”

This story was originally published January 25, 2022 5:10 p.m.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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