Defending conscience rights in Colorado

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up, doctors fighting for their conscience rights. 

Doctors in nine states and the District of Columbia can legally prescribe life-ending drugs to their terminally ill patients. But not all healthcare providers want to do that. Those who object for religious reasons can opt-out. But that’s not always as easy as it sounds.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: In two states, the fight for conscience protections in healthcare recently ended up in court.

Joining us now to talk about them is WORLD Radio news editor Leigh Jones.

Good morning, Leigh!

LEIGH JONES, REPORTER: Good morning, Megan.

BASHAM: This first case is one you’ve told us about before, right?

JONES: That’s right. This is a case out of New Jersey that I reported on several weeks ago. It involves a Jewish doctor—Dr. Yosef Glassman—who filed suit against the Medical Aid in Dying Act because he objected to the law requiring him to refer patients to another doctor who would prescribe life-ending drugs. A district court sided with him—put the law on hold temporarily, but a state appeals court overturned that temporary stay not too long ago. Dr. Glassman says he plans to appeal to the state supreme court, but as of now assisted suicide is legal in New Jersey.

BASHAM: Ok. So how about the other case?

JONES: This other case is the newest one and it’s out of Colorado, which has had assisted suicide since 2016. Now, the law gives religiously affiliated hospitals the ability to opt-out. And right after it went into effect, two hospital systems did that. One of them is Centura Health. It’s a Catholic hospital system. But earlier this year, one of its doctors—Dr. Barbara Morris—wanted to prescribe lethal drugs to one of her patients. She was worried, though, about what might happen if she did that. So, she asked a state court to declare that she couldn’t face any negative consequences if she prescribed those drugs. Several days later, Centura fired her. Now the case is in federal court and Centura argues that the Constitution protects its right to refuse to participate in assisted suicide. And it has the right to prevent its employees from participating as well.

BASHAM: So what’s the doctor’s position?

JONES: Well, I should say that advocates of assisted suicide in Colorado have expected a legal challenge like this for a while, because the law is a little bit vague when it comes to this hospital exemption. So, the law says that the hospital can ban the use of lethal drugs on its premises. But it says that doctors can’t face any kind of retaliation for either prescribing or refusing to prescribe the drugs. So it kind of puts the hospital in a tight spot.

And that leaves this sort of unclear, grey area. So, Dr. Morris believes she should be able to prescribe the drugs regardless of what hospital she works for. But really at the heart of this case is this issue with assisted suicide that Christian doctors have been talking about for awhile. And that is, is it a choice or is it a medically necessary treatment? Advocates want you to believe that it’s medically necessary. But if it is, that means that Christian doctors—or, really, any doctor that objects—wouldn’t be able to do so. I mean, that’s sort of where this is headed. And Christian doctors say that these kinds of fights are only going to continue until eventually the Supreme Court weighs in on conscience protections for healthcare providers.

BASHAM: Let’s hope they do so soon. Leigh Jones is WORLD Radio’s news editor. Thanks for the update!

JONES: You’re welcome, Megan.

(Photo/Centura Health)

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