Thursday, April 16, 2009

LGBT, HIV Groups Call for End of Bush Health Care Rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Observer Update) - A coalition of 38 LGBT and HIV advocacy groups is calling for the removal of an eleventh-hour Bush Administration expansion of federal rules prohibiting discrimination against health care workers on the basis of religion.

The groups, which include Lambda Legal and the National Coalition for LGBT Health, call the rules “unnecessary and confusing” and say they endanger public health. The new regulations went into effect on Dec. 19, 2008. At that time, HHS (Department of Health and Human Services0 claimed they were needed to protect employees of organizations receiving HHS funds from having to perform procedures they find religiously or morally objectionable.

The 14-page letter submitted to HHS says the regulations could give wide latitude to health care workers to discriminate against co-workers or patients who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or living with HIV. “Federal law already rightly guarantees workers broad protections against religiously motivated discrimination,” said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer C. Pizer.

“But everyone would agree that those protections cannot be absolute – they wouldn’t allow a Jehovah’s Witness surgeon to withhold blood transfusions from patients based on the doctor’s religious objection, for example. These regulations – which can be seen as expanding existing protections so health care workers can harass co-workers or choose to treat some patients, but not others – should be rescinded, as the government is now proposing to do,” said Pizer.

Studies show anti-LGBT bias is a persistent problem among health care providers, and religious disapproval of Gay people frequently contributes to that. In August 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that religion cannot be used as a legal excuse for doctors to deny infertility treatment to Oceanside Lesbian Lupita Benítez. Her doctors had claimed that California’s constitutional protections of religion allowed them to refuse to inseminate her after 11 months of preparatory medications and surgical treatments, but the high court disagreed unanimously.

“If HHS’s new regulations are allowed to remain in effect, they will have a negative impact on health care for a great many Americans,” said Rebecca Fox, director of the National Coalition for LGBT Health. “In a country where so many people struggle to access quality health care, HHS created another barrier. These regulations are particularly harmful for LGBT Americans, many of whom already fear being out to their healthcare providers and struggle to find and afford respectful, good quality medical care,” Fox added.

HHS has now proposed rescinding the regulations. If that does not occur, the regulations could cause confusion in everything ranging from who receives care to which organizations can receive federal funding and may result in federally funded programs and health care providers inappropriately refusing to treat LGBT or HIV positive patients in a medically sound, respectful manner, the groups said.

“The Bush Administration put people with HIV at risk with these unnecessary regulations,” said Bebe J. Anderson, director of Lambda Legal’s HIV Project. “Unfortunately, discrimination and ignorance towards people with HIV are still common. The government must not invite or sanction discrimination against people with HIV or LGBT patients.”

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